There’s something in the air in Marrakesh, something you’ll never sense in any other part of the world but here. Maybe it’s the thousand spices blown off little pyramids of red and yellow that grow all through the endless markets of the souks, maybe it’s the stink of the snails boiling in peppery broth mixing with the scent of the incense and the stench of the tanneries, or maybe it’s the sound of the snake charmers’ pipes and the horn-blowers’ trumpets blowing in your ear while a hundred cooks offer you their soups, tagines, offal and egg. Marrakesh is madness, absolute madness; it is as mad as the old man in the plaza playing a banjo with a rooster sitting on his head as he dances and sings, it is as mad as the man telling stories to his audience with a pair of flip-flops strapped to his temples, it is as mad as the motorcyclists tearing through its million man medina at a million miles an hour.
It may not be the most cosmopolitan place in the world, it may not be the most comfortable or the prettiest, but if, if for a moment you can see past the chained monkeys and poached animals, if you can hold a sprig of peppermint close enough to your nose while walking through the leather tannery streets, if you can hold your stomach as the bodies of the snails slide down your throat, there is beauty in Marrakesh. There is beauty in the silence held within the walls of the riads – the traditional Moroccan guest houses where the only noise is the running water of the fountains – and there is beauty in the oases growing in-between the desert-city streets – the Majorelle Garden of cacti and succulents, the El Harti garden full of pigeons flying above love-birds – there is beauty in the seven hundred year old Koranic school for young men, the Madrasa Ben Youseff, and there is beauty in the Berber and Arabic instruments playing all through the Jemaa el-Fnaa square, and music too in the calls to prayer echoing off the sandy city walls five times a day. There is beauty in the colour of this chameleon city, this Saharan blue city of the Tuareg migrants wrapped in their aqua turbans, this city of ochre orange henna hands and brilliant headscarves and djellabas – those elegant dresses for women and the heavy hooded cloaks of men.
Yes, you will be taken for a ride in Marrakesh, you may hate haggling over unknown values and the hassling over unwanted goods, you will get annoyed at offers for services that are more lures to extract cash rather than contracts to exchange goods, but this is of course all part of the adventure that is Marrakesh, a city that will make you too want to declare Allahu Akbar, God is Great, whether your god is theirs or yours or whether your god is or is not at all.