Yesterday I spent hours getting lost in the twisting streets and tantalizing history of Meknes. Once the capital of Morocco, Meknes instantly grabbed me by the neck dragging me into her exotic interior. Spellbound, I wandered from the old granaries, past the Rose Gate with its massive cedar doors and Berber architecture complete with intricate mosaics of dizzying colors: blues, yellows, and an abundance of greens - the color of the Islamic religion. Like so many other things misinterpreted by the west about Islam and this region, to me, green perfectly represents so much of the Muslim culture. It’s lush, inviting, and peaceful.
Enough of politics and religion though. I do not dabble in either. I put the thought out of my mind and cross over to the large square in front of me. It’s still early, a breeze ruffles awnings as shopkeepers set up their stalls. I was in this square late last night. The vibe is very different now. Last night, it pulsed with activity, elicit and explicit. In one corner, families sat and drank coffee with their children playing in motorized cars, lights of purple, and red, and blue flashing as they drove around, tiny electric motors whirring to the beat of the night. A few feet away, where the light was darker, more ominous, and the joyful laugh of children was swallowed by the shadows, men from the Sahara mixed powders of exotic materials designed to improve male potency. Locally, they call the powder Turbo Viagra.
The shadows of the night and the men who sell their wares in them will undoubtedly return tonight. For now, they are gone, perhaps hiding in dark corridors mixing potions and grinding animal bones over bubbling cauldrons. My mind imagines endless possibilities, my creativity unleashed. This is the effect travel has on me, and Meknes is like a tome of untapped inspiration. I’m enthralled.
I plunge into the labyrinthine streets and alleys of the Medina. Stalls of clothes and scarves and bags crowd the narrow spaces. Colors blur and mix into a shifting serpent of vibrant hues. Stands of fruits: juicy watermelons, pink and lush, are stacked beside piles of sun-ripened olives, with pastries dripping in chocolate adjacent to vast barrels of salts and herbs. Men selling skimpy women’s lingerie leer at me, before being shouted down by a figure, skeletal and sweating dragging an overloaded cart through the alley. I move to the side, momentarily pressed against the heaving throngs of people. Incredibly the cart makes it through the crowded space, three small motorcycles wheezing acrid smoke putting behind, taking advantage of the cart’s wake.
I stare upwards, between the tall buildings in the narrow alley. I was told they sell camel burgers near the base of the minaret. It is easy to get lost in the Medina. The minaret is my waymarker. I spy it to my right. It is tall, rectangular shaped with green mosaic tiles and a pointed spire. The sky behind it is bleached. The day is heating up, yet in the Medina, the narrow alleys offer shade and natural cooling. I move deeper keeping one eye on the minaret, the other on the spellbinding sights around me.
Finally I arrive at the mosque with its minaret towering above. I run my hands along the wooden boards of the walls. Once they were used to help blind people find the mosque for prayer. I follow the wall. It curves down another alley where I catch the scent of barbecue: woody smoke and spices. I follow the smells until I find a small shop with a brick grill, meat sizzling. The meat, ground camel with onions and salt and turmeric spits and hisses angrily.
I point to burger and exchange 15 Durhams, approximately $1.60, with the shopkeeper. Skillfully he snatches a patty from the grill and stuffs it, along with a single slice of limp tomatoe, into a flat round bread, similar to a pita, then hands to me with a toothless grin. I smile back before biting into the burger. It’s delicious. I take another bite and another. My journey into the Medina has been a success. Now I just have to find my way out.