Gathered in Morocco from locals, travellers and emigrated Moroccans
-Do you see people down here?
-30% of them work for me. They're undercover cops, they keep everyone safe.
-Is it dangerous?
-Not anymore. We want to make sure nothing like the Argana café attack happens again.
This is the only time the music stops on Jemaa El Fna. During the calls to prayer, storytellers, singers and entertainers suddenly go quiet. Any other time of the day and for most of the night, you could always find your way back to the square by locating the sound of the gnawa drums.
When I was a baby, I got sick in Morocco. My grand-father didn’t know what was wrong with me, but he still walked 4km to the village market. In Morocco, when kids get ill, they get a banana. Because it’s the most expensive fruit. My grand-father brought me two bananas. It was the only time I saw him. He died six months later.
-Did you see the storytellers on Jemaa El Fna?
-I think so.
-Those guys would tell stories like in the One Thousand and One Nights. So they tell you stories that go on and on and on without ever ending! Once they have a big enough group of people around them, they say: go fetch me 1kg of meat if you want to know the end. So you go and fetch the meat. And then they tell you to come back the next day to know the end. So you’ll go back the next day to hear the end of the story. But they see new people in the group, so they start the story all over again. It’s impossible to know the end of a story!
-Hey rouya, how much for the grand tour?
-La la la… it’s too expensive.
This is the step where I tell my friend that I don’t need to ride a carriage around the city. But he won’t have it:
-What do you do for 300 dirhams?
-The whole thing my friend, Gueliz, the Medina, the Koutoubia, everything!
-La la la… 300.
At this point, I’m losing patience. I’d do anything to stop this insane conversation. I’m grabbing my friend by the hand and unsuccessfully trying to pull him away from the damn cart. Luckily, the drives gives in:
15 minutes later, we’ve done the “whole” tour. My friend gets off the carriage and asks:
-Why did we not go to Gueliz? We didn’t do the grand tour!
-Why do you want to go to Gueliz? There’s nothing to see there.
The Moroccans are a very superstitious people. Dreams, in particular, are said to carry secret messages about what the future holds. Some examples...
If you dream of being in a garden, you'll have a happy life.
Pure water? You'll live well.
If you dream you've climbed to a terrace and got back down via the same set of stairs, your business will go always go well. If you can't get down, you'll have problems with your friends and won't find the way to defend yourself.
You'll marry a very important man if your mother dreamt of cutting a rose in a garden whilst she was pregnant.
If you dream of picking and cutting pomegranates, it means you'll travel far away and you’ll be separated from your friends. But you’ll be back one day.
If you dream of bathing your feet in the water, people will always listen to you.
If a bachelor dreams of picking a rose in a garden, he'll wed a pretty girl.
-This is the hotel with the best view in Essaouira.
-Yes. And the cheapest.
-What do you mean?
-For 5€ a night, you get the best view. And bed bugs. It’s a choice.
“When my dad was a kid, there was an eclipse in Morocco. You have to understand people were not necessarily educated back then. No one knew what was happening. They thought this was an apocalypse and they were all going to die. So everybody went out of the houses and asked their neighbours for forgiveness. One said "Sorry my friend, I once stole a chicken from you". Another said "Sorry my friend, I slept with your wife". When the sun finally came back, it was kind of awkward in the neighbourhood.”
-I was worried about the snakes on Jemaa El Fna.
-They don’t put them around tourists’ necks anymore. They used to empty the venom each morning. But with the sun and the heat, the venom would refill and then someone got bitten and died.
-Two men died. The snake charmer and the tourist. They both got bitten. So now, they leave the snakes on the floor and no one touches them.
"When I was a kid, we didn’t have a lot of money. We lived in the medina and there were only Moroccan people there at the time. Poor people, rich people… everybody used to live there as neighbours. It was ok for people to mix between classes. But when there was the Aid celebrations, we had to buy a sheep. And the bigger its horns, the richer we looked. My dad couldn’t buy one with very big horns. I felt ashamed that my friends would see this sheep with tiny horns. So he told me this:
-The trick is not to have a sheep with big horns. Ours is better, because it’s got more fat. This is what makes a good sheep! Go tell your friends!
My dad didn’t care about what other people would think. But he knew I would. So to save my family’s reputation, I would go and talk to my friends, telling them what my dad had said to me. That a good sheep needed to be fat, not to have big horns."
- What are you moaning about? - asked the devil to the screaming women
- The devil is dead! - replied the old women
- Lies! I am the devil!
- We are telling you he’s dead. We don’t know you.
- I am the devil!
- Get in this amphora, then we’ll believe you.
He got in the amphora and the women sealed it.
- Open immediately! - he shouted.
- Oh my girls! Let me go and I’ll be good to you.
- How could you be good, you, the devil?
- I’ll teach you how to win men over.
The women agreed to it and the devil taught them witchcraft as well as the cures for all illnesses.
Find out more in Pratiques des harems marocains by A.-R. De Lens, Editions du Sirocco
-Do you paint these yourself?
-How much are they?
-80 dirhams each.
-I’ll pay 100 for three.
(Ongoing conversation between my friend and the artist during which I started playing with the paintings I wanted)