Saturday, 2 January 2010

Discreet charm in Morocco

What a delight this morning to discover that the Muezzin from the Mosque next door to our Marrakesh Riad had apparently been replaced. The new one seems to feel less inclined to bellow and is a great deal less garrulous than his predecessor. Instead of keeping us awake for quarter of an hour, he just issued a discreet call to prayer and let us get back to sleep.

While we've been here, I've been struck by the highly developed courtesy that people show us. I wonder whether this might not be another example of the same thing? Perhaps someone read my previous post and decided that it would be a kind gesture to us poor foreigners and unbelievers to keep the volume and the length down. If so, I'm profusely grateful to whoever is behind such an elegant gesture.

The other aspect to have struck me is how often I have the impression of being in Southern Spain. This is partly because of the number of Spaniards one hears (of course, we brought one with us - my son's charming girlfriend, referred to by the admiring men in the crowds here as a 'gazelle' - if you react, they point out quickly that they mean it as a compliment, which actually I'd never doubted). There are a great many other Spaniards here as well, though - I think they must be the second biggest group of foreigners after the French.

As well as all the Spanish voices we hear, the other strong Spanish flavour in the place is, of course, the architecture. Internal courtyards with patterned tiles, sculpted stucco and carved wood are, I discovered, still referred to here as 'Andalusian style'. I'm constantly reminded of Seville and Cordoba as we come into another sumptuous courtyard or see another soaring tower (really, how can the Swiss pretend there's any objective justification for their banning minarets?)

Yesterday we travelled into a valley of the Atlas Mountains. The Berber villages were a revelation: they're built of local clay or local stone, with the result that they blend into the landscape. At one point, as we scrambled up a near-sheer hillside, with more or less difficulty depending on our natural agility and adequacy of footwear, to an attractive series of three waterfalls, I looked back to the cliff face opposite. Space for houses had been carved out of the rock itself, and the stone used for the buildings, so you had to look twice to spot them. In the clay house villages surrounded by the same red earth, only the mosque stood out, as it alone would be built of brick.

The way the buildings blended into the background reminded me of the Alhambra in Grenada, nestling into the cliff and built of the same stone. Consummate discretion.

I only hope our local Muezzin will continue to show the same restraint over the last two nights of our stay here.

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