Saturday, January 31, 2015

It's Raining on the Risotto! - Morocco Week #3

After a week at the beach in Essaouria it was time to catch the bus back to Marrakesh to our next airbnb home. When we booked it, we didn't realize it was less than a five-minute walk from the first place we stayed! Seems ironic in a city of a million people. The good news was we knew the immediate area and where to find everything the neighborhood had to offer. And our new friend Rashida, whom we met at our first airbnb, was nearby for help as needed.

The view from our seats in the front of the bus. This is typical of most of the roads on the 3 hour journey.
Similar to our first experience, we staid in a riad. A riad (Arabic: رياض‎) is a traditional Moroccan house or palace with an interior garden or courtyard. The word riad comes from the Arabian term for garden, "ryad". The word is as overused as Kleenex is for tissues, and has become short for any type of guest house, be it palatial or otherwise. In this case, the house was well on the side of "otherwise".
Looking down the ally from our new front door
The riad where we had our first Marrakesh experience was a lovely, tranquil setting. This new accommodation was more typical of a single family, no frills house with a hole in the middle. When Rashida stopped in to say hello she slowly looked around, and  after some thought said " are getting a chance to really live like a Moroccan". As she left she warned us "Remember it could rain in here". And with those words she waved goodbye and left us staring upward.
Michael found it hard to imagine that we would have rain on our table that same day
I could go on about the challenges of this little abode - but I could also note that our stay here will be one of our most memorable Nomad experiences. Here's the link:
The kitchen, just beyond the open dining area, is barely big enough for one.
Add two more pans and a few spoons and a steak knife and you have just about all the cooking gear available
Here's a quick recap; the main floor consisted of a toilet under the slant under the stairs (a no-go zone for stand-up use) A kitchen the size of a generous broom closet, the aforementioned open to the sky dining area, and a small room with a couple of seriously uncomfortable couches and a space heater that we called "the snug". Fortunately the TV received a couple of English channels and the wifi signal was good because we spent a lot of time in this room.

Michael looking forward to my first Tangine in our dark little "snug".
On the next level there were two bedrooms and a larger bathroom with shower. The shower drain had a plastic covering that needed to be replaced the minute you finished showering to prevent ancient odors from past civilizations wafting upwards.

On the top level there was a pleasant terrace, another small sitting room and the washing machine. And that wide-open, often raining sky. Which brings us back to the main floor. Maybe we should have looked a little closer at the pictures, or recalled the review from one woman who complained of wet slippery tiles. Or maybe we should have considered central heating and a roof in January a good bet in any country.

I could check the weather from the warmth of our bed
We had to laugh as we dashed from the warmth of our bedroom to the bathroom down the exposed hallway. It’s not often you step in puddles on the way to the loo! Then there was the run from ‘the snug’ as we named the main floor sitting room through the cold main floor to the equally chilly kitchen for yet more tea. Cooking was a hilarious, and precarious dance in a small space with a very feisty propane stove. It was cold in the house so I often cooked in a sweater and my down jacket. All those years on the sailboat prepared me for that – but I hadn’t counted on catching on fire! “What’s that smell?” I asked myself while preparing dinner. “Burning goose feathers, that’s what!” The bottom of my down jacket had caught fire while I was reaching over the stove to grab a pan off the shelf. Fortunately, there was no bodily harm, but my Uniglo jacket required patching.

My favorite jacket all patched up for Paris
A little rough around the edges - and I have no idea what the patch means, but I like it.
Rashida helped me find a street market tailor and a “scrap store” where we dug through bags of remnants to find a suitable piece of fabric and what I thought might be a stylish A&F looking patch. The tailor sewed it all up on the spot. Total investment $1.50 (about right for the craftsmanship) and I guess I earned my cooking badge.

Our tour guide Abdul was a great source of information and insight into Moroccan culture
The cover of a Moroccan magazine issued shortly after the attacks in Paris
We booked a private walking tour with a lovely guide named Abdul who runs Marrakesh Guided Tours. He was totally up for any and all political and religious questions we had.  Coming so soon after the tragedy in Paris it was good to connect with a Muslim person who loved his country, city and his religion. In fact, we made many wonderful new friends during our time in Morocco.

My new friend Monsif makes the freshest fish and chips I've ever tasted and his gazpacho was amazing.
I have the recipe - and he has a sketch by me framed and on the wall of his restaurant, Le Perle Blanche.
I fell in love with Moroccan food and wanted to learn more about it so I booked a day long class at Souk Cuisine. There were just six of us in the class so we had lots of hands-on experience that included a couple of hours of shopping in the large marketplace (souk) in the medina.
Cooking classmates armed with shopping lists and courage
We were split into teams of two and given shopping bags, cash and a list of ingredients to gather. Since I already had a couple of weeks of souk shopping under my belt I was prepared for the slaughter of two chickens, the dodging of vegetables as they were tossed from the seller to the weigher to the  bag boy and ready or not – to you, and the overwhelming array of spices piled high in cone shapes and overflowing out of feed bags. Fully loaded we headed to the kitchen and made a wonderful four course lunch while our instructor Gemma gave us insights into the cuisine.
One of three chefs doing prep work while we had tea and learned more about Moroccan cuisine

Making authentic couscous is a labor of love - but so delicious.
Michael finished off the week with a trip to a Hamam. He was rubbed and scrubbed and felt like a new man.
Michael apparently steamed off enough weight to top up the snack supplies
Looking back at the past three weeks we can say that we thoroughly enjoyed our time in Morocco and hope to explore it further - but even these two seasoned Seattlites wouldn't mind if it didn't rain next time. 

Debbie and Michael
Senior Nomads

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