My last day in Morocco.
Or so I thought.
I spend the day exploring.
In and out of the Souks in the Medina.
Found some lovely little Stacey-ish Frenchy cafe to eat a late lunch in , with the best Chicken Pastilla ever, of which Ive become quite a fan of by now. It is some kind of shredded chicken mixture, almonds , cinnamon, exotic seasonings, surrounded by phyllo dough and then coated with powdered sugar.
This is one of the better treats I have eaten in my life. I will be figuring out how to make this one.
Back to the Riad to pack the bags , 6 am airport the next day…
Arrive at airport with tons of time, check in, go thru security, buy a ton of French home decor mags at the news stand, I am happy, i will be in French Decor bliss for the entire flight- Yay! I plop down at the gate , after finding out that my RYAN air flight has not arrived yet from wherever it is coming from. Now it is important to mention that this is a very small airport, 8 boarding gates, all in a row, with big windows, you can see every plane that comes in, the whole waiting area is a few hundred meters long.
I have some time and I’m getting hungry, with foresight, I did not eat all the Chicken Pastilla yesterday and got the rest to go, I am happily munching away. I notice a man on my left , a seat away, looking at his boarding ticket and on closer investigation, I see he has an Italian passport. I look him over, he is quite noticeable, tall, dressed in a tweed coat , a black fedora hat , elegant in a Bohemian sort of way. More than anything there was an compelling energy emanating from him that I sense.
My mind goes into overdrive. Do I start up a conversation with him?
Or do I just stay in my comfort zone, eat my Chicken Pastilla and zone out over French decor magazines?
What to do, such a dilemma. One of my defects of character is that I over think just about everything too much and too long.
Luckily for me, I came to a decision fairly quickly. I don’t like initiating conversations while I’m eating so I hurriedly finished my snack, brushed off the powered sugar mess on my shirt, made sure that I had no cinnamon smeared all over my mouth, and I spoke to this man in Italian, asking him some ridiculous question like , do you know what gate the flight to Pisa is taking off from?
He immediately lights up and responds in a booming voice, i have no idea what his answer was other than no, don’t worry, I have been coming to Marrakech for years and taken this flight many times, they have not called our plane yet. We tumble into a lively conversation about where we are each from, etc.
HIs name is Rocco, he lives in Florence and owns a tea house near Santa Croce that he started 37 years ago,
Mago Merlino Teahouse.
He has traveled to Marrakech forever, buying herbs and spices for his tea house. The conversation swerves over to the Italian bureaucracy , he calls it science fiction.
Best description ever.
I have determined quickly that Rocco is a force of nature. His booming voice, his expressive nature, all adds up to larger than life. Some Italian guy on the other side of our chairs gets into the conversation and as it turns political and economic, I lose the thread of it pretty quickly , but the two of them are going at it as only Italians can, hands are waving , they both are talking VERY loud, if not shouting, and it is fascinating to watch.
I look at my watch, somewhat aware of the time, and realize that we have not heard any boarding calls for our Pisa flight. Nor have I seen any Ryan AIr flights out those windows. I leave the men in their heated discussion I go up to some boarding gate personel, ask about the Pisa flight, in French.
What I think the response is, as the woman points at her watch,
“ Madam , that flight left 5 minutes ago.”
I head back over to Rocco, tell him what I think I heard, he jumps up dramatically and strides over to the gate personal, asks about the flight (he DOES speak fluent French) and they explain patiently that the plane has departed.
I look at Rocco and calmly swear.
Not at him.
Just a lot of fucks and shit and god fucking damn it.
My insides are churning.
I keep myself in check and hold back from a making a scene.
My over thinking mind starts to calculate the possibilities. I don’t mind being stranded in Marrakech for another few hours but what about my bags? Will they be left on some baggage carousel in Pisa , until someone decides to steal them?
Rocco is busy swearing up a blue streak in Italian and passionately declaring what imbeciles the entire airport staff is, the Ryan Air organization are idioti, and how the flight was never announced, etc etc.
A Ryan air official shows up to escort us out of the boarding area, I have no idea where we are going , but I follow anyway. It feels ominous. We are led into a small room where a bunch of official guys in uniform look at us suspiciously, and reluctantly stamp our passports. My anxiety is mounting, I’m going to glue myself to Rocco for the next little while here, I do NOT know enough French to navigate this turn of events.
We are then escorted to another far off corridor where we see our bags sitting there waiting for us. Hooray!!!! I can get through anything as long as I have my outfits!
The guy from Ryan air then escorts us back out to the terminal to begin the process of re-booking another flight. I think to snap a photo of Rocco charging up to the desk, a part of me knows that I am about to enter into an adventure that I may be blogging about.
We come to find out that the only other flight to Italy does not leave til 9 pm , it goes to Bergamo, some out of the way city in the north of Italy way past Milan. Gets in at midnight and there you are in Bergamo, a hundred miles or so from Pisa, Florence or Cortona and no way to get anywhere at that hour. Not an option.
Next flight to Pisa perhaps? Tomorrow?
No, next flight for Pisa leaves in 5 days.
My panic is mounting higher. I do not have enough clothes and certainly no hair product.
“Oh wait, here is a flight for Rome that leaves in 2 days from now at 9 am. But you have to book it now, you have only a one hour grace period after a missed flight to re book again, and even then you pay 100 euro penalty. If you miss your one hour grace period, well who knows. I did not want to find out. We have 5 minutes left to book this flight.
My new friend Rocco declares that he will show me a side of Marrakech that I would never experience on my own.
All right, why not?
We jump in a cab, back to town. He assures me that the hotel he always stays in, the Hotel Ali, will have space, it is on the Jemma square, extremely cheap 25 euro and they have known him for years.
We pull up and I have a sharp intake of breath. The hotel and the area is “colorful.”
Lots of characters going in and out. Praying in the courtyard at prayer call. The hotel is a throwback to something you might find in downtown San Francisco years ago.
But they do not have any rooms. Tomorrow they rooms. Today, they send us to a neighboring hotel down the street.
Seedy beyond belief.
This princess wants her beautiful Riad Dar Attajmil.
We are escorted to our respective rooms. The walls are Pepto Bismol pink, the sheets are tread bare and about 40 years old, there is a little terrace , which is somewhat nice, I tell myself. Lumpy pillows, a blanket. A shower , but no soap. At least it is clean. Sort of. This is home for the next 24 hours.
I remind myself, this is an A-D-V-E-N-T-U-R-E.
Rocco is eager to get on with the day , we head into the heart of the Medina, the old part of the city center that is typically Arabic in that it a maze of walled, narrow, twisty alleys and streets, closed to cars but open to motorscooters and bicycles. It is nuts, alive and completely exotic.
We are starving, so Rocco takes me to a part on the Jemma, where there is street food and these guys dip big slabs of beef that is suspended from a pole into a whole in the ground that has a fire that has been burning all day. The meat cooks slowly for hours and comes out, fatty, juicy delicious, they throw a chunk of it on a piece of paper with some hot bread. you eat it on some makeshift benches behind the whole in the ground with all the other Moroccans (not many tourists here). About 2 euro tops. Fantastic.
After lunch Rocco continues his tour of the Medina and can’t get down the street with out running into someone he knows, and always with a flourish, he recounts his missing the plane adventure…people genuinely adore him. He whisks me into some shop that a friend of his owns with antique tribal jewelry and other curiosities. The exotic looking turbaned man serves us tea of course (by the end of the weekend I will have had so much tea served to me by Rocco’s countless friends) and they chat and then off to the next adventure.
Next stop: Carpet showroom. More carpets. Rocco’s friend, a very smooth carpet salesman starts getting his guys to roll out all the carpets for me. What did i just sign up for? Didn’t I just do this at Nomad Depot in the desert? Before I know it, the guy has 40 carpets laid out in front of me, and is asking me which one I will want to take home , and no worries, I can pay in installments. Half now, half later. Hold on! I push the reset button , call for help to Rocco and tell him sotto voce, under my breath , that I am not really sure what I am doing here but I need to go, NOW. He tells his friend that I am going to think about it. The salesman says to come back tomorrow, no obligation, he will prepare a lovely meal of couscous for me with his family. Probably not. I do not need any more carpets. Or couscous with carpet strings attached.
The end of the day is rapidly approaching. Rocco has stuff to do, I have work emails to answer and we agree to meet later for dinner. We somehow miss each other, I end up eating a shitty meal in some tourist place and then we meet up later and have tangerines on the fleabag hotel terrace and discuss everything under the sun, from fashion, metaphysics, Italy, Marrakech, my kids, his kids and on and on til 1 am.
We make a plan to meet the next morning to buy spices for my son Jesse, who loves to cook and will appreciate such a gift.
I retire to my Pepto Bismol room with one blanket and sheets from the 70’s, Im freezing and I wear everything I own to bed.
Next morning, again I must surrender to not having my hair as I would like-no hair product, I have a little shampoo leftover from the Riad, which doubles as soap, no hair gel or Pack Oil , and certainly no hair dryer – nothing. I wash my hair in the passable shower with only a treadbare towel to dry it. The plastic towel rack falls off the wall when I put the towel back on.
It is ok. It is all part of this adventure.
Rocco and I set off again in search of spices today. We pass many of the tourist spice stores in the Medina. Neatly packaged and displayed beautifully in copper canisters.
Can’t we go here?
These places are for tourists I am told.
Instead we go to the inner recesses of the Medina to some people Rocco has been buying spices from for years, and we embark on a 2 hour adventure of spices buying to further Jesse’s culinary education.
It was unbelievably fun, raw, real, the guy grinding up the whole spices in the ancient machine, mayhem everywhere. Wonderful.
Two hours and 50 euros later, I have a suitcase full of spices that will last Jesse well into the next century.
Next I am buying a huge bag of rosebuds. I don’t know why exactly. But I had to have them.
I have had some Moroccan coffee that is mixed with exotic spices somewhere in the past 24 hours and Rocco guides me to the man who can deliver that particular blend of spices for coffee. Again, I get a ton. I am really getting carried away here.
Chicken and egg stop. Really different from the sterilized version one finds at Safeway or even Whole Foods.
Rocco saves the best for last. He takes me into a little shop, Beldi, that you would not think anything of from the outside but inside the shop is about as big as my bedroom with exquisite caftans, moroccan style jackets with embroidery, jewelry and beautiful pashmina scarves. The owner, I (forget his name) is polished and elegant, with trendy glasses and quite gracious. I am offered my 75th cup of tea of the past 24 hours, and settle in. I try on many things but am seduced by a beautiful grey pashina jacket which of course I buy. It was entirely reasonable too.
We leave before I can do more damage, and I am done with consumerism for the day.
Dinner time at the Jemma Square. In the evening, food kiosks are set up and hundreds of people are eating at these places that serve up amazing CHEAP food. We go for some lentils, beans , hot bread. Under 5 euro. Smoke from the grills is everywhere ,
I have never seen anything like this, and snake charmers , people selling stuff, performers, music, it is nuts. Crazy wonderful.
Rocco wants snails. I try one, but I just can’t quite go there.
The Jemma Square at night is surreal, I could have stayed there all night, but tomorrow is the flight back to Rome and I need sleep.
We get to the airport in plenty of time to rearrange the suitcases, making sure that the bags do not weigh one kilo over, as Ryan Air absolutely makes no exceptions on overweight luggage, so we have stuff spread out all over the place near an empty scale. I am wearing 3 coats, Rocco is stuffing spices into his over coat to relieve some weight and we make it just at 20 kilos per bag.
We pay close attention to the boarding calls this time, head back to Rome and part ways at Roma Termini, knowing we will see each other again soon.
I am so appreciative of this wild giro (tour) that I embarked on but most of all, I love that I have a new pal, Rocco, from simply deciding to speak up, not stay in my comfort zone, and be open to possibility.
It has been an incredible A-D-V-E-N-T-U-R-E.