Friday, October 30, 2009

"America Good Now''

We met this shopkeeper as we were walking our last morning in Essaouria. His name is Ahmed, and when he found out that we were Americans, he went behind the counter to find his Obama button.

"American good now,'' he said. That seems to be the general feeling among the people we've met, both Moroccan and European. It's nice to see attitudes changing, but one that persists is that Americans generally have or are willing to spend more money than anyone else.

We're getting more skilled at bargaining and finding out the real price of things such as a taxi ride. The new riad where we're staying our last night in Marrakech offered a private taxi to meet us at the bus station for 10 euros, about $15. We decided to pass and get a taxi on our own, but when the bus arrived, we realized we looked like an easy mark. It wasn't likely any of the drivers who swooped in would likely agree to use the meter.

  "Americans,'' I overheard one say, pushing away another driver to make sure he got to us first. That was our clue to go with our Plan B and walk a block to the Ibis Hotel down the street, relax over our first beer in several days, and then out on the street and flag down a taxi. Before we did, we asked the desk clerk how much it might cost. Around $7 was his estimate "because they'll see you with suitcases and won't agree to put the meter on.''

The first taxi we flagged stopped. "Meter,'' we said, pointing. The driver hesitated for a second, then nodded and took us to our hotel. The fare was  $1.

We're splurging our last night on a room at the four-room Dar Attajmil It's a very classy place for 90 euros, about $135, a night. It's owned by an Italian woman from Milan who moved to Morocco nine years ago. There's  banana tree in the courtyard that reaches almost to the second floor where the rooms are. Surrounding the tree downstairs are little nooks and cranies with comfortable chairs and cushions for relaxing. Breakfast is served on the rooftop terrace with this view over the Medina.

Our last dinner was at the Chegrouni cafe on the square where we ate our first night in Marrakech with Holly Henke, a Times colleague who was ending her trip to Morocco on the day we arrived. Our favorite was the kefta tangine, a baked dish of little meatballs, eggs and tomatoes. We found it on several restaurants, but none were as tasty as the Chegrouni's $7 version.
Dessert was spice tea and spice cake at our favorite tea stall. The vendor recognized us as repeat customers and gave us an extra scoop of cake. I could feel Marrakech growing on us as we became more comfortable with the ways things work in a culture that's very different from ours.

Afterwards we walked around thinking about how to get rid of the last of our loose change. The male belly dancers dressed in pink and white satin gowns? The snake charmers playing their flutes? A few people beg here, but many provide clever entertainment or provide some small service to earn cash.

Near the women doing henna tatoos, we spotted the blind men. Seven of them were lined up in a row, sitting in chairs, smiling and singing. We dropped a coin in each man's cup and said goodbye to Morocco.

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