Dear guardian angel,
I traveled to Morocco in a sleuth mood. Only a bloodhound could be so sharp to find the exact things I was looking for not because they were too few, but because they were too many! The first target was the acquisition of a battery of perfume oils, two by head owner, for each one of my grandchildren. You will get the list. There shouldn’t be two essences alike. I planned to give them to the carriers of parts (let’s hope for the best) of my genetic formula at the moment that I will hit 80 accompanied with first quality good wishes. The parents were kindly asked to touch the mastoid process (that is just behind the ear) of each of their own every evening before or after kissing good night. The purpose of this bright idea (of course mine) was to keep any nightmare of any kind away of the charming little heads, some curly and reinforce family ties.The demand of the elder of these little gentlemen and ladies to bring him a djellaba opened a new line of action and a similar set of rules: firstly, they should all of them be served with similar quality goods, and secondly – those should be different enough to avoid lifelong rancor. The third target was personal, I am still, alas, a human being. Therefore I felt a serious need to undertake a meaningful research of a dish that I fancy particularly: the couscous. I hope that everybody recognizes the essential modesty and striking restraint of my purposes. There wasn’t any plan to return to the decadent Europe with a mighty harem (7), belly-dancing houris wrapped in semi-transparent veils (we have plenty of brown to black coverings around) to drive everybody nuts. Modesty before anything else…whatever the else may be! Then, taking into account the time-space I allocate to myself, my tasks, my purse and my age, I concluded that the three amazing cities (two imperial ones and the once literate one – gone, gone…) will fit me: Marrakech, Fez and Tangier and that I should behave. A little but heavy note is necessary. I was warned that the weather is rotten, rainy and cold. What could I do? I am offensively deaf and I am not God, I cannot change weather! I wonder if God still does. He seems to have relinquished the most of his prerogatives all over and in certain countries some very cruel people named themselves instead. Whatever, to ignore the conditions was a big mistake, some people die of that! At one past midnight, I arrived at the Marrakech airport. It has a name, I ignore. The enormous hall, arrivals cum departures I guess, made on me a sinister impression. I am ferociously emotional in spite the appearance. It was empty, poorly lit and displayed the ugliest modern version of the once famous Muslim decorative art. Houris none, some fat apathetic policemen yes; the single ray of hope coming from the center of the entrepôt where was located an aquarium like cabin with the magic inscription: CHANGE. I got there the holy cash and some instruction that I failed to register, because hour and age. I remarked immediately that the driver who should wait for me was missing and that the rain was not furious; it was only steady and abundant. Attempting to conceal despair to myself I went out and after a while I found an individual pressing a piece of cardboard against his chest. After fighting with him like Jacob with the angel, I discovered marked on the cardboard, in uneven majuscules: Riad Itry. It was my destination. The shine of rain drops under the rare flickering street lights and the deep red walls on which irregular shadows and flimsy lighted patches were continuously dancing – created an eerie, spooky, and if you don’t mind enthralling atmosphere. I was elsewhere! A man with an umbrella was waiting for us somewhere in a Medina (old city) spot from where the taxi couldn’t continue. He was kind, the streets were dark, torturous and narrow, the sewer overflowed. I felt it with my right leg which became perfectly wet. We got into the central hall. Most of the Riads are built like square chimneys with a set of floors around a central court and open to the sky. Under an arch a man was lying on a bunch of cushions, intensely under influence. Kif kingdom! I asked for some mineral water or tea,and got informed that notwithstanding the warm teapot near to him, whatever liquids that are not coming from the sky I should get the next morning. My natural murderous instincts increased exponentially, but I felt too tired to start an argument.He brought me to a room on the roof. Toilets cum bathroom were located between the floors, the steps were high and water was pouring freely from the sky reducing whatever difference between staircase and gutter to nil. Any attempt to reach necessities will end with multiple fractures.
The room had the temperature of an working refrigerator, a heap of wet linen was thrown on a bed, there were not bed sheets and the extremely dirty bed cover, should have served to protect horses during the rainy season. Greasy horses! After giving me, with some reluctance, a partially wet towel the man left accompanied by my wish, to slide in the steep staircase and break the essentials. Nothing happened. Well, something did! DEATH come to visit me, he/she was seated in the corner and start smoking…I went fully dressed under the horse blankets, covering very well my head, not to see, so to say, my visitor, without to be able to warm up. More, every 10 to 15 minutes I had to alleviate. That was done in the frame of the door, it was out of the question to head towards the bathroom or even use the roof under the steady rain. To perform I had to take off the only pair of dry socks I had and put them back when I was returning to the cocoon. Sorry to give these physiological details but without them the story is totally trivial…Death was stalking and, in between, a little horse has joined the company, probably the son of the owners of the blankets; the minuscule room was ready to collapse. The body, mine, was able to take the stake but the mind was failing…An imminent HEART ATTACK provoked by stress, by endless reproaches I made to myself, for not listening to wise people and for doing such a poor choice were turning in my head like a squirrel in a wheel; add to that that I hate any cold and that I felt invested by a wave of self-pity….There were little doubts that a good infarct became, more and more, a solid option..Years of meditation helped and some giant chance too. Eventually God did a miracle. The internet was working in and out. I hired, while hiding under the horse covers, during the time that I was trembling of rage and cold, a room in another Riad, more expensive with the IN SITU BATHROOM and intense heating. They said! I decided that I am going in PERSON to see and touch! Thomas was always my preferred saint! At the first ray of light I left the ordeal room, locked it with my own lock, gave some rude words to Death, snorted towards the little horse (I cannot be too harsh on animals) and headed in the direction of the Riad Chennaoui located at the other end of the Medina, near Mellah, the old Jewish quarter. On the road I stopped in a bistro for the poor, got a very hot thick, soup of chickpeas or lentils, or something similar, added a quantity of harissa that provoked the admiration of the public, walked bravely forward, no taxi please, I was not trusting anybody anymore, stopped again in a classic coffee shop, for the gentry, male I mean, in front of the Koutoubia tower, had a splendid double espresso, and from there with no hesitation I headed towards my new harbor. Just off the record, the Koutoubia minaret, the major city landmark, deserved two mosques built one after the other by Berber Almohades rulers in the XIIc. in a desperate effort to obtain a right alignment with Mecca. They missed it twice. The first – was 5 degree astray, the second, alas 10!!! Perfection is not of this world. I can live with that especially after that I realized that the Riad Chennaoui was a dandy (relatively for its price) and its clerk, the precious and polite Mr. Nabil, treated me as a devoted son does for his beloved father. That was priceless!With the trust in me beefed up to new heights I decided to handle the souk and from the giant plaza Jamal el Fna I plunged through the Mouassine street in the heart of a wondrous realm. Should for the sake of life go for the shorter sequence of essential characteristics I will qualify it as the world of color and taste, smell and skill, opulence and tradition. It is a city in a city and I have to reckon that I have rarely seen such a large population engaged in folk and decorative art, production and selling, of any quality, the best included! For those who had the slightest exposure to One Thousand and One Nights this souk may be felt as the indisputable, frame and background of each of the tales. Did I forget something? Sure, the souk is by definition a highly interesting, appealing, effervescent place of trade. With very few exceptions the merchants, forget the buyers, are gentle and polite; they do not stick to the customer leech manner, like Indians do, or do not abuse him ruthlessly, like Palestinians do. Give respect, get respect that is the formula here.Modestly speaking, I am a passionate and euh! educated souk activist. Here is my credo! Say hello coming in, say hello coming out, ask prices, abstain of any kind of interjections, especially avoid to tell the vendor how exceptional his merchandise is, fact that is bringing you immediately in the IDIOT category, compare the qualities of the objects belonging to the same sequence, do some mental mathematical operations, that is my weakest part, vendors are doing that in milliseconds, tell what you want to pay, do one or two slight moves, I mean incremental up offers, and leave immediately with or without the product. I became interested in negotiating when I realized that the merchant despise the PIGEON. He does not intend to, but it is stronger than him. The little or high jumps of adrenaline level seem to be appreciated by both sides. Not only you are gambling, the vendor too. Also don’t fool around, be quick and drink your coffee or tea at home. If I like something very much I can come the next day offering exactly the same price. I avoid offering ridiculously low prices that are irritating the vendor and I am generally proposing from 50% (India 35%) to 70 % of what I was asked for (question of feeling) and never go over the upper limit. To be sincere I gather some previous information and bother people on the street if they have something that I like and ask how much they paid for and where. Speak only with locals. A lot of them tell. In less than two days kids and grandfather were ready for the masquerade djellaba and babouches included.The new city (Gueliz) is located out of the walls of the Medina of course. They share the same color, this glorious red of the pisé, a brick made of pressed mud or earth tempered with chalk, gravel or lime. Color only, otherwise the new city is completely different should architecture, building materials, opulence of the stores, the beauty of the houris, restaurants and hotels prices, people dresses and especially the dentition be considered. In the old city, a non-governmental contraption like Dentists without Borders will have work for centuries. I went there to meet the most famous Moroccan perfume maker: Abderrazzak Benchaabane. Well the old man was not there, his shop or temple – Parfums du Soleil Benchaâbane, it depends who is speaking, was located on Yves Saint Laurent street across of the Majorelle Garden. I forgot to tell that Marrakech, notwithstanding its desertic location, is a paradise for palm trees and a high place for parks, public and private. Jacques Majorelle (1886-1962) was a French painter who created during 40 years an enchanted garden. The garden, already down the hill. was acquired by Yves Saint Laurent who engaged the botanist Benchaabane to restore it. After, he encouraged the very talented fellow to create a line of perfumes. I bought a phial of 10 ml, Soir de Marrakech – citron vert, amber, vanilla, jasmin, fleur d’oranger, patchouli, musc, santal. Now that you have the formula, you can just go to work but he price was too high for me to furnish with that exquisite essence – my blessed descendance. I adore them but I don’t plan to get ruined. Into the Majorelle Garden I didn’t go, they were 300 people, that means 299 too many, waiting under a drizzling rain, and I left towards the Medina for the museum of perfume belonging to same veteran distinguish craftsman and olfactive designer. Located at 2, Derb Chérif, Rue Diour Saboun, Le Musee du Parfum is a marvel and to quote a bloke who is hitting Trip Advisor from time to time: If I could have left 6 stars, I would have. ME TOO! (Thanks God that we can use the term in other context than RAPE!) I will tell you. The building which houses the museum was wisely and accurately restored. The exhibition is splendid, elegant, emotional, sticking to essentials, totally referent to the homeland and its culture, country, people and sources, and in the same time subliminally didactic. Knowledge and understanding are instilled in your subconscious without even to be aware of. The museum functions also as initiation center where the regular Joe ( me) can produce his own brand of perfume and a school for those, more serious people, who want to learn the subtle craft both under the guidance of the incomparable master. To get an idea, which is still far of the level of experience, just click on the link – https://www.benchaabane.com/lemuseeduparfum By divine grace I was the only visitor. The most of all I was impressed by the PERFUME ORGAN. This is a semicircular desk whose exhibiting surface is increased by a raised shelf which doubles the number of essential oils the perfumer can combine in order to create a signed product. However he has to manipulate phials, and bottles and pipettes and test tubes and beakers and absorbent paper stripes and especially his hands and his nose to perform his alchemist craft.
And then an idea of genius stroke me with the intensity of the one which hit in his sleep the emperor Constantine and transformed him from a wild pagan into a wise Christian. (Less than 150 years later the empire was kaput because that, but who cares?) I will build a real perfume organ consisting of glass cylinders ending with extremely thin metal tubes leading to a small silver bowl which is both, a container and centrifuge. Everything is controlled by a computer console that opens the small valves of the cylinders, activates the centrifuge, channels the product in one of the tiny bottles to which the bowl is connected, brings the precious liquid in contact with an absorbent paper stripe, and send the stripe on which are marked composition, quantities and the number of the bottle to a results’ tray. After the silver bowl cleans itself with a secrete solution which renders the surface free of any chemical and electrical memory. In one hour or less the aspirant wizard can dispose of ten to twelves samples of accurate, exact records of his creative drive, perfumes, never done and never tried of course. The psychological and even the financial reward can be considerable.The only difficulty I may think of is that one has to have a PROFESSIONAL NOSE. And BULBS like those come one in five to ten million people, a French NOSE told me years ago. So what to do? And here a second great idea invaded my mind . Quantity can replace quality IN a certain measure. Dogs have two to three hundred millions olfactive cells what towers the human poor barely five million allocation. So some mercenary doctor should takes a piece of olfactive nasal mucosal from a properly anesthetized dog, let as recompense a kilo of first quality Charolais beef filet near him to foster a pleasant return to reality and plants the pink piece of valuable endothelium in the aspirant NOSE’ nose, a children play for the today surgical craft that very soon will be able to replace EVERYTHING from a human body including the body itself. All this for a moderate fee which should cover also the price of the above mentioned first quality meat.
I am compelled to note two enormous last minute occurrences which explain my feelings before departure. I did, alone again, a visit at the Tiskiwin (housing the fine Bert Flint collection) museum dedicated to the material culture of the Saharan and sub-Saharan population’s. The place is, let’s stay into the precious, a real Pearl judging by the quality of the exhibited material and the coherence of the display. I discovered there with glee that the Touareg women (you know the Blue People, mostly Berbers with some proud streaks of black genetic material) who were wearing impressive fibulas, custom that they inherited from the Romans, were filling the two openwork pendants touching their breasts with amazing perfumed substances able to confer to the above mentioned splendid female attributes a rainbow of enticing celestial odors.And then, at the very last I discovered that the railroad station, located on the stupendous Atlas mountains snowed peaks background, was as beautiful as the airport was clumsy. Maybe it was an illusion but i am ready to swear that i suddenly saw a sublime flock of marvelous, gracious young model houris of the gazelles brand on high heels, (what can I say?) flying out of it. I do not even attempt to depict my enthusiasm. Sometimes one needs so little to feel happy. It is not wonder that after traumatic beginnings I left this superb city of Marrakech by train to Fez drunk with admiration.