evokes all of Morocco: The blistering heat, that Sheltering Sky, the merchant stalls waiting for dusk, the minaret, the loose and flowing everyday clothes., the utter foreign-ness.
But Jemaa al-Fnaa has been discovered, honored by UNESCO, written about by Paul Bowles and Tripadvisor reviewers and lots of folks in between. All with good reason, but another market in Morocco was more captivating to me.
It was dark, not only because the day was overcast, which is not that unusual in the high Atlas, but also because the interior space where I spent most of my time there was truly dark. The mud building had no electricity, and the small windows no glass and certainly no window dressing. This was a restaurant, of sorts. You had to bring your own food, but there was a cook, with a wood fire and cooking utensils who, for a fee, would cook it for you. He cooked a tangine for us, of course, because that is what you get, always, in rural Morocco. This was Slow Food, so I had plenty of time to observe.
The scene I could not capture, however, is the most memorable. A tall gentleman wearing a dusty turquoise kufiya (head scarf) and mustard-colored dejabella (caftan-like shirt) sat beneath a skylight. The light, the colors, his olive skin and noble nose, were hauntingly beautiful. He was one of those people you just notice, like he had just been sent from central casting.
I tried a surreptitious candid photograph, but was busted in a good-natured way, the good-natured part thanks in large part to Mustafa, our guide, and cultural Fixer. During the post-almost-photo banter Mustafa produced a mirror—who knows why he was carrying a mirror—and handed it to this man.
He was puzzled. He did not recognize himself. In our looks-obsessed, selfie culture it is hard to comprehend this, but he had never seen his own image.
The Shot I Missed
I took this photo mid-day at Jemaa al-Fnaa. The market is known for its nighttime melee of crowds, music and street food, where locals and tourists jostle each other or crowd around communal tables for tame and recognizable, or strange and only maybe recognizable street food--grilled chops, sheep head, snails served in cones like popcorn, sticky sweet cake shaved from large horizontal towers like gyro meat. But I love this naturally over-sunlit, over-exposed daytime view, because it
The restaurant was in a permanent building at the crossroad of two tracks we would call Jeep tracks in the U.S. Weekly, nomads and locals came to sell what they had to sell and buy what they could--plastic buckets, flour, produce. Equally important, this was the place for socializing and catching up on the news. For men, that is. There were precious few women, and none in the restaurant except for me and my friend. The locals did a good job of ignoring us.
The photo to the right shows the kitchen; I painted the scene below of restaurant patrons. I would love to know what the two men are discussing.
Me. Sundown in the High Atlas.