Scotland, Europe, the world

Markets of Marrakesh

The water carriers of Marrakesh are a peculiarly Moroccan phenomenon. Dressed in red tunics festooned with pom-poms, clanging little cymbals and sporting hats that look suspiciously like lampshades, these odd little men no longer carry any water through the main square of Djemaa el-Fna. Nowadays they are there solely to be photographed by tourists. They are pretty good at it too, grabbing unsuspecting camera- sporting fools, sticking lamp-shade hats on their heads before extracting stotts of cash

I enjoyed my'encounter so much that I attempted to walk off With the lampshade hat still on my head, pursued by a frantic water carrier

from them all while keeping their prey happy. I enjoyed my encounter so much that I attempted to walk off with the lampshade hat still on my head, pursued by a frantic water carrier chasing the oddly-shaped source of his hvehhood.

Get used to being pleasantly fleeced in Morocco. While the country has the natural beauty of the Sahara desert to the south and the Atlas mountains to the north, in the Imperial city of Marrakesh shopping is the major activity. This is a country that forbids non- Muslims entry to its places of worship, thereby preventing tourists from sightseeing a large percentage of the sights. Moroccans want you to go shopping so it would be rude not to.

108 THI LIST 1-15 Mar 2001

Jealous of Marrakesh, the rival city of Fez may claim to be the artisan capital of the country, but entering its medina (or old town) feels like descending into the first level of Dante’s Inferno. It's cramped, hot and extremely difficult to find one’s way around compared to the medina of Marrakesh which is actually a pleasant and relatively fun place, at the far end of Place Djemaa el-Fna, the city’s amazing central square.

In Marrakesh the aroma of freshly cut wood and spices fill the two square kilometres of narrow, almost sub- terranean alleyways that constitute the souks (or markets). Hawkers of textiles and pottery hustle up against those who are trying to flog sportswear and shoes to wealthy locals. Further inside the medina, though, away from the hardcore hustlers on the Rue Souq as-Smarrine, you can watch local carpenters and coppersmiths engage in work which is dedicated neither to wealthy young locals nor tourists and is of a more timeless nature.

The carpets are the richest of prizes, but beware. These merchants calling to you from the grandest of all the stalls in the medina have been flogging their wares to wealthy Europeans for centuries and they know exactly how much their craft is prized in Europe. Bargains are scarce here. Strangely, not even your strongest claims of poverty will prevent

Get ready to haggle over some maglc

you from being dragged into the shops of merchants who sell the finest carpets. Go willingly, drink the mint tea and admire the beauty of the deep ochres, violets and ambers from which these rugs are woven. Then make an honest bid. No offence will be taken and you can have a chat with the merchants while they secrete the rugs about the high ceilinged vaults until the real money turns up.

In a nation characterised by its almost compulsive tendency to trade. it is not really about what you buy but the experience you have when you buy it. Traders can get a bit aggressive at times and it may take a while before you realise that humour is the best way to deflect such forthright sales techniques. In addition you could bear in mind Alexei Sayle’s confession that he can only haggle over prices if he is doing it in a comic French accent. In this bartering-obsessed, francophone country you will have ample opportunity to discover that his theory does actually work.

Finish the shopping experience with some amazing food. As you emerge from the medina into the dusk, the Place Djemaa el-Fna has been transformed into an open air restaurant. Where the water-carriers wandered during the day, stalls selling fish, kebabs of every kind, steaks, French fries and the traditional cous- cous and tagines now fill the square. Gorge yourself and then move on for a dessert of chocolate pudding and a fresh orange juice to wash the whole thing down. A very pleasant way to spend money indeed.