All the maps of the medina of Marrakech are distressingly different from one another. I can’t find the Royal Residence on one, a landmark on our way back to our home in Marrakech, Riad Nafis. In another, I can’t find the hospital that is another landmark. In some it’s hard to figure out exactly where is the Djemaa el Fna, the central plaza of the medina. Even the walls are not drawn in the same places; and gates are unreliably located. I am reminded in an odd way of the mapping problems in Christopher Priest’s wonderful science-fiction novel The Islanders.
So I can’t tell you exactly where the spice market is, except to say that it’s about a block or so from the Bahia Palace, and it seems to be on our way back to our riad. So we went.
The spice market led from a busy street to a pleasant pedestrian square.
Outside and beyond this square was a vehicular crossroads, which included–almost beyond our comprehension–an actual one-way street. Now we’d gotten pretty good at crossing streets in Marrakech at this point, having discovered the secret method. (Find a Moroccan who is crossing the street and follow right on his coattails. I pass this tip along to you for free.) But this one-way street was particularly tricky because motorbikers appeared to have a special immunity that allowed them to go at high speed the wrong way up this street.
Er…Sidewalks? Yes, but only intermittently.
On our second full day in Marrakech, we could no longer postpone facing one of the trip’s more difficult questions: Should we try again to buy a Moroccan rug, one that will fit in one of the places where we need a rug?
Yes, we decided. We should. And so we asked our helpful host Laurent if he might recommend a rug dealer that would be, er, well, we knew any rug dealer would be charming but insistent, would praise his merchandise, would ask double a fair price or more, but, dare we say, honest?
And he did. He recommended Dar Benhayoune in the Mellah district and gave us directions to it in relation to the Bahia Palace. It was only a block or so away. So we braved the street crossings, the motorbikes, the so-called one-way street, and found the street of the rug merchant. But no rug merchant.
After going up and down the street twice, we steeled ourselves and asked a man sitting in front of a doorway if he knew the place.
This was it.
The rug shop was wonderful. Near the entrance sat a woman weaving a rug the old fashioned way on an old fashioned loom, fingers flying as she tied each individual knot. She let me take a turn but had little patience for my inexperienced fingers. I didn’t blame her. The rug she was weaving was beautiful; neither would I want to weave a beginner’s clumsiness into it.
Rugs hung from the second floor balconies in the inner courtyard. Rugs were piled in the rooms off the courtyard. Beautiful rugs, all of them. Beautiful wrong-sized rugs.
The house, said our rug merchant as he showed us around, used to belong to a Jewish family. We could tell because it had windows facing out to the street; a Muslim household would not have such windows. Later we learned that the Mellah district where this house was located used to be the old Jewish quarter.
I will not bore you with the long story of rugs unfolded and unrolled, beautiful rugs, all the wrong size. Let’s just say that at the last we selected a traditional rug we both really liked that was too small for our space, but not by much. I thought it might do. Dan did not. As we debated with one another, the price came down until it was about a third of the original price. That seemed about right to us, and so we became the owners of a second wrong-size Moroccan rug.
And by some miracle, it actually looks really good in the hallway of our home on Block Island. Not the wrong size after all.
And by a second miracle, on our way back to the riad, we saw a policeman pulling over motorbikers one after another as they came racing the wrong way up the one-way street. And giving them tickets.