A business woman attempts to escape from her commitments for a while as they seem to close in around her. Her friend persuades her to accompany her to Marrakesh. The intended rest and relaxation almost imperceptibly transforms into a journey to another reality. At first, the colours, smells and lights draw her in, and then the hustle and bustle of the city with its beguiling mix of Oriental life combined with western influences increasingly fascinates her. The traveller makes friends with people who quickly become familiar, like characters in a dream, and they lead her to places and festivities where she experiences an incredible spirit, exhilaration and ecstasy. She learns to sense colours, and to perceive emotions with her body. The adventure seems to reconnect that indeterminable “something” that she had lost during her exhausting every day routine. All this bears great sensitivity towards visual and atmospheric stimuli. A tableau of the city unfolds before the inner eye of the reader through a story narrated with great attention to detail and a passionate and knowledgeable description of Marrakesh's attractions, so much that this book could also be regarded as an ideal travel guide.
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Immersing Into Another World
Feeling Images and Colours
Moving With the Rhythm of the Masses
Venturing into the New
Stars Within Reach
A New Life Begins
The plane landed with a jolt, braked sharply and slowly rolled to a standstill. We stopped approximately about hundred meters from the terminal. Greeted by hot and dry air Marianne and I stepped out onto the gangway. I was thrown into this world as if I had stepped through a wall. The sky was purple and opalescent light reached us through a thin haze.
At the arrival desk we were faced with a long wait. Everything was stalling. Having received the passports, the inspectors typed something into their computers and proceeded to wait endlessly before handing the documents back with a nod, approving the entry. Some people became agitated about the procedure. Marianne and I remained unfazed, watching with mild amusement the rush some people seemed to have at the beginning of their holiday. Yet, soon enough, even I became nervous and agitated because once we had left passport control behind us; the search for my suitcase at the baggage claim was unsuccessful. All the other passengers from our plane had hauled their luggage off the conveyor belt, but mine remained elusive. At first I was unable to locate any service personnel to complain about my missing property. I was worried that someone else had inadvertently – or even purposely – taken my suitcase. What’s more, Marianne and I were worried that the taxi driver who had been sent by our guest house to pick us up would drive off without us, as he might assume that we hadn’t arrived. So Marianne went outside to make sure he waited while I attempted to solve the issue of my missing suitcase.
Finally, after knocking on every door in the arrivals area and asking several people who were responsible for the luggage inspection, I found two airline personnel. Communicating with them proved somewhat difficult as they initially pretended not to understand me, although my English and French are rather passable. When I became increasingly annoyed by their ignorance I quite harshly insisted on a written report of my loss, and finally, they obliged. Despite all my cursing and describing the problems I would face without my luggage, the suitcase remained missing, and they were unable to tell me whether it got lost in transit, or whether it had been stolen from the conveyor belt. They promised to contact me in my hotel if their enquiries were in any way successful.
Angry and flustered I rushed off with my hand luggage to catch up with Marianne. After all that mess we finally left the airport in our taxi – a full one and a half hours after we had landed. On the way into town we saw that everything was still tinted with the purple colour we had first noticed when we left the plane. It felt as if I was in a surreal world, illuminated by unnatural light sources. I was reminded of one of James Turrell’s light creations.
We drove down a straight four-lane road lined with palm trees and flowerbeds. After a while we passed a vast, modern holiday estate that still had some unfinished areas. The already completed buildings had all been painted in an antique pink that shone like the towering single facet of a huge pale ruby. A bit further on we saw huge mansions hidden behind long walls. These also had been painted with that antique pink. The evening sun illuminated some of the surfaces and turned them into crimson. All this enhanced the illusion of an alternate reality. The houses featured flat roofs, archways, pillars and balconies all the way round. They were overgrown with flowers and green plants, and some palm trees grew in between them. The shutters were all firmly closed to protect the houses from the sun and the heat. We didn’t get a glimpse of the life in those houses.
Later, large olive trees and orchards lined the road. The orchards were fenced in and lined with irrigation ditches. Once we got closer to the city, the road passed through densely populated districts. The street cafes were full, and many people were milling about. Women with their children trailing dragged heavy carrier bags into their homes or into the next shop. And there was dust. Everywhere.
We crossed several junctions and various roundabouts advancing further into the city. Long walls appeared periodically to our left and right. Behind them, houses were huddled together. The loam rendering here was beige or grey in colour. Again, the evening sun painted everything in warm, glowing hues. Women wandered around by the walls with their children, sometimes in larger groups. Other women casually strolled down a path along the wall, talking, while their children were happily playing. Only very few men were to be seen. Obviously, this was the evening meeting point for the women of the district.
Approaching a junction with palm trees in its centre we saw several national flags of Morocco fluttering in the wind. Traffic was heavier here and needed to be regulated by a policeman. By now the yellow street lanterns had been lit, and the purple and crimson light across the sky faded into dusk.
We turned into a small street. To our left, we saw a high, uneven wall with reddish grey loam rendering. Two-storey houses without windows lined the street. Donkey carts, mopeds, bicycles, trucks and rickety cars drove through the narrow streets and were all over the place. Some carried vegetables, and we watched them being unloaded at several places. Others were laden with furniture, while yet others had rubble piled up high above their rims. Massive amounts of stones were transported on old carts, and the vehicles looked as if they were about to collapse under their weight. In between all that, people rushed through the streets, emerging from shops and yards. Craftsmen had their shops set up on the ground floors of the buildings, and we saw carpenters and metal workers plying their trade. Hustle and bustle was everywhere. Looking into several small windows and doors we saw lamps and candles, and a sense of organized chaos with floors, tables and wash basins all piled up to the ceilings.
Through the open window of our taxi, the noises of this stir rang in our ears. A cacophony of voices, shouts, cries, rattling, blowing horns and hammering washed over us. Sometimes, our taxi driver would curse as other road users proved to be a hindrance, or he would simply shout at passers-by or other drivers from inside the car. Between the houses to our right a tiny alley branched away, and all one could see were high walls at its end. Either, these alleys ended at those walls or they veered off at a right angle. On the left was a high wall with a big gate, and large gold letters announced that it led to the ”Lycée Mohammed V”.
Suddenly, our taxi driver stopped after what had seemed to be an endless drive through the medina, the historic town centre. From the shadows of an alley a young man with a hand cart approached the taxi. The driver and the young man greeted each other by slapping the other’s shoulders. Our luggage was transferred from the taxi to the hand cart, and the young man asked us to follow him into the dark alley past the two-storey houses.
Debris and donkey dung were on the ground. The stench was horrible, and water was dripping from a pipe. Children sat in front of a plain door, while even more children played in another side alley, screeching loudly. Two lanterns offered a dim light. The whole atmosphere was rather eerie, and I felt uneasy thinking that I had to spend the next few days in this area. I wondered what I had gotten myself into and what was waiting for me. At the end of the alley stood a high red brick wall which was in total contrast to the grey decrepit houses of this area. The stones were offset, showing a zigzag pattern, and they were illuminated in order to bring out the shading. A lacquered massive wooden door studded with steel nails was very prominent in the centre of the wall. A sign had been mounted to the left of the door, and yellow straight letters on dark blue ground announced: ”Riad Noga”. Our guide rang the doorbell, and after a short wait the door opened gently. We entered, and a young man greeted us in French: ”Bon soir, Mesdames, bienvenue!” Slowly, we moved along while gaping at the new, enchanting world that was unfolding in front of us. After passing through all the narrow roads, the dirt and the stench, we had now arrived in what can only be described as an idyllic location that seemed to stem from a fairytale.
The months and weeks before our departure had been very stressful for me. I was forced to add new tasks to my responsibilities and had been permanently on the road. At least once a week I had to travel to various cities in Germany in order to meet customers, negotiate contracts or transact business. Sometimes I had been away from home for days on end. During the remaining few days in my office I had to delegate the tasks within my team and clear all that work that I hadn’t been able to finish through our company’s network while I was travelling. More often than not I had to plough through hundreds of mails in the morning that were cluttering my inbox. I had to get up early for my work travels in order to catch the first plane or train. Travelling home in the evening usually brought me home late. Taking a nap on the train was never enough to relax or recover properly. On the contrary, I felt that my neck and shoulders deteriorated because my head always fell forward when I nodded off. Even lying in bed, my neck was still uptight. I had functioned like clockwork, and all my strength had been consumed by concentrating on my job and its requirements. The last thing I had on my mind was to be away from home during my holiday.
My husband had very much the same problems, albeit for different reasons. His business was stalling. He had ordered a new range of articles, and his storage was full up, yet there were no customers to buy the wares. The loans for the working funds were suffocating him, he had to find money to pay his employees, and new marketing strategies cost additional money. He became increasingly nervous and irritable, and soon he spent more time than ever before in his shop. At home, he would only brood over his business papers. As I was away a lot of the time, we hardly found any time to talk to each other – let alone for some tender love and care. We were far too absorbed in our professional matters and merely coexisted.
When my friend asked me whether I could accompany her to Marrakesh, I initially wanted to decline. What was I supposed to do in a foreign town in Morocco? I needed time for myself and my marriage, provided I was able to get some time off for a holiday. I had been looking forward to sleeping in, enjoying our wonderful flat, reading a thrilling book, cooking something delicious with my husband and eating it with a nice glass of wine. But Marianne didn’t relent. She had intended to go to Marrakesh with her longstanding life partner to boost their relationship that had been heading towards a crisis. Unfortunately, they had separated three weeks before the journey. She was adamant to get over the separation and wanted to set forth on that journey, but she didn’t want to go alone. She pestered me persistently, until she finally persuaded me to go with her about one week prior to the holiday. My husband also encouraged me to go and said: ”Before you continue to work yourself into the ground, and I have to suffer the stress as well, you should go and get some rest and relaxation. I will continue to attempt finding a solution for my business problems. Keep your friend company and look after yourself for a change”.
So I switched a few dates and took one week off. Changing the flight’s booking to my name was no problem, and the guest house didn’t care who shared Marianne’s room. I had no time to properly prepare myself for this journey; I didn’t even have time to buy some books about Morocco and Marrakesh, let alone read anything about it. The night before our departure I spent literally up until the last minute packing as I had spent the evening in the office, distributing orders and getting contracts ready for signing. Once we settled into our seats on the plane, I took a deep breath – and made myself comfortable to sleep.
We had to change planes in Madrid, and it took up all of our two hours stay to get from one terminal to the other. I was impressed by the terminal where we arrived: Large concrete pillars carrying v-shaped steel beams supported the wave-depicting roof of a seemingly endless hall. The sub construction was lined with wooden poles adding to the illusion of waves. The steel beams had been painted yellow, orange, and red, and they both marked and separated the various terminal areas. I was impressed and regarded everything in detail. The indirect light of modern lamps reflecting their light to the ceiling also enhanced the image of waves. As it was mid-afternoon the artificial light was nonessential though as huge glass windows on both sides allowed the Spanish sun to flood the hall with her light. The unhindered view out onto the runway and its surroundings was breathtaking. The protruding roof and a good climate control made for a comfortable ambience.
The rush and haste of the numerous arriving and departing passengers was slightly alleviated by the generous architecture. This was an enormous achievement of modern architecture which outclassed any of the terminals I had previously encountered in Germany.
At the airport I took a closer look at our flight ticket from Madrid to Marrakesh, wondering about the arrival and departure times. Despite being on a two-hour flight we would arrive in Marrakesh earlier than our time of departure. When I properly thought about it I realised of course that the time difference was responsible for that. Retrospectively I think that the two hours we gained on that day had been an omen for what was awaiting me. I was – that’s the way I look at it today – literally thrown into another time on that day. The change of my outlook on life, the tide of new impressions and the questioning of reality would from now on accompany me on my journey.
This was Marianne’s and my first visit to Marrakesh and Morocco. We had promised each other before we set off that we would not talk about the problems that had been bothering us before our holiday; we wanted to commit ourselves completely to Marrakesh. And so, we stood full of expectations in the Riad Noga. The German owner greeted us just as friendly a manner as her employees had earlier, and we were ushered to an alcove with lavish settees covered in white linen upholstery. We received a welcome drink and looked around, still in awe.
After a while I realised that we were in a square, beautiful inner yard. I was mesmerized by taking in my new surroundings and tried to memorise everything. Cosy lit lounges were on two sides of the yard; one boasted a large dining table, the other was furnished with sofas. The broad wooden doors leading into these rooms stood wide open. Three trees grew in the yard. Their canopies rose up above the first floor. Climbers covered the walls from the base to the top, while banana plants, palm trees and blossoming bushes grew in huge clay pots and bowls. The surface of the floor was covered in turquoise and blue glazed tiles. The pattern and colour of the floor tiles was repeated in a moulding that sat half way up on one of the calcimined walls. A shallow bowl filled with water stood on a small stand in the centre of the yard, pink and red petals floating in the water. Next to the bowl was a metal cage housing a frequently squawking parrot.
Lanterns and mounted lights illuminated the scene mystically. A roofed but otherwise open gallery spanned three walls on the first floor. Beneath the trees were three steel tables with mosaic tops, ringed with chairs beset with white linen cushions. The corners of the alcove where we sat housed two standard lamps with bulbous ceramic bases, and a wooden table covered in carvings dominated in its centre. Three large colourful paintings decorated the walls. Contrary to the heat we had experienced at the airport and during out journey into town, the temperature in this inner yard was pleasantly cool.
After a brief conversation we were led to our rooms. We passed an archway into a second inner yard with a large swimming pool. It was also lined with turquoise tiles and framed by a blue-tiled rim. Bright spot lights embedded in the lower part of the pool wall were illuminating the water. Several rooms led out onto the yard; those on the first floor were all connected by a roofed gallery. The walls had been painted dark red, while ledges and pillars boasted contrasting yellow ochre. Across from the archway stood a sofa with white linen sheets, and a bar made from dark wood. Both were covered by an arced roof. A large mirror above the sofa reflected the turquoise of the water. Lavish palm trees and green plants grew in large terracotta pots here as well. Everything was enchantingly illuminated by brass lanterns.
We were directed to the red room on the first floor, which was apparently our room. It was presumably called the red room because the walls had been covered in a red, slightly shiny plaster. Red cotton covers interwoven with black and bright threads, as well as many large and small cushions of the same colours graced the bed. The bathroom also featured the red colour of the main room’s walls. A rounded, plastered wall served as a partition for the shower. The wardrobes in the room were made of cedar that had been stained in a dark colour. The floor consisted of irregular, dull stones covered with colourful carpets made from natural fibres.
It was comfortable, and we felt at ease straight away. All the furniture had been chosen lovingly and tastefully, and each detail went hand in hand with the others. Several halogen lamps working independently of each other illuminated the walls, or the ceiling, or served as reading lamps at the bedside. We tried them several times just like little children would. Bathrobes and leather slippers had been put out for us. Next to the bed were octagonal bedside tables, and little bowls with sweet snacks had been left as complementary welcome presents. It didn’t take us long to discover these deliciously-smelling cookies were made from almonds and honey. A clay pot containing nuts, dates and raisins waited on the desk. Marianne quickly unpacked all that she needed, as I had only the clothes that I was wearing. We freshened up ready for the dinner that was about to begin.
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