The frenetic pace of the streets of the Marrakech medina lessened a bit when we made a right from the main run of the spice souk and took to the alleys, though the word alley doesn’t mean much there. The air was cool and many shop keepers watched us for an opening. We kept our heads down. Walked slowly.

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Moroccan Spices, by Barrett Donovan

We came out looking for spices, and there we were in the midst of the wall street of North African spices, pointy mounds of cumin, tajine, paprika sting the air with their rare earth bouquet. Men sat on weak chairs half in their shops, more like booths, half in the street where people slowly streamed through like bees pushing past each other to get to the queen. We walk on, slow, people bump behind us, shuffle to get by, bikes come and go, a moped here and there, men yell for an opening to push a cart through loaded with TVs, or oranges, or some tourists luggage.

We struggled to decide. The shops are all the same. There is nothing to catch our eye past the towers of red and yellow and brown. They all have the standards. The drums full of drab earthy things. The clay donuts, like stubby bowls without bottoms: Berber lipstick, moisten your finger, run it around, and apply a rusty patina to your lips. Berber toothpick: a strange seed head for some desert plant that is made up of many thin stalks that rise from the bottom and curve up to a dozen small flowers. Break one off, clean your teeth. The amber, waxy infusions of citron, or herbs to use as a sachet or deodorant. Alum crystals.

Danielle and her friend Madonna

One shop right after the next. All the same. Blank and tired faces sizing you up from shop to dingy shop. We dig deeper. I hear Danielle breathe in, see her put out her hand, and a shop keeper wearing a Puma T-Shirt, acid washed Big Star Jeans and pointy yellow slippers reaches out, hands her a chameleon. It sits in her hand. Just a pale green lump, and all of the sudden her world is as small as the palm of her hand and her smile is as wide as Djemaa el Fnaa.

To be continued…

-M