Marrakesh (Charming Cobras in the Square.)

Marrakesh is a trading center, a vast walled city at the foot of the Atlas Mountains.  For many coming on the caravan trails it was the grandest city they would ever see.  The main attraction of Marrakech, for me, is watching the walls and minaret of the main mosque glow pink in the light just before sunset.  We’ve walked to the gate closest to the hotel to watch the transformation for two nights and can also see it from our hotel window.

The main square, the Djemma el Fna makes Marrakesh different from anyplace else.  There really are “charming cobras in the square,” as well monkeys, storytellers, musicians, acrobats, juice vendors, fool stalls and other entertainments.  At night you hear and smell the square before you see it.   Drums, cymbals and instruments that sound like the chanter on a bagpipe, and the smell of kebab on the grill tease you with what’s to come.   Then comes sight, the flood lit buildings around the square, obscured in smoke rising from the kebabs on the grill.  That’s four senses (taste the kebabs); we’ll get to the sense of touch in a minute. There’s a feeling of the circus.

As a foreigner I’m marked.  A snake charmer threw two snakes around my neck and demanded that Suzi take a picture and that I pay him the equivalent of more than $25 to remove the snakes.  The bargaining starts without the traditional mint tea that starts most bargaining in Arab souks.  My fifth sense, touch, is now fully engaged (especially in the neck) and I’m at a disadvantage in the negotiations.  I see a cobra out of the corner of my eye and although the snakes around my neck are not cobras, and I don’t think they are deadly, I don’t really know my North African vipers.  The guy is putting the snake’s mouth against my forehead “for luck” while repeating his demand for money.  We settle for something less than $25.  Having paid the money I felt free to take more pictures of the snakes, not around my neck.   Someone told me that the tourist office is concerned that a lot of first time visitors to Marrakesh never come back after encountering the snakes.


From April 2005

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