CHANGE UNIVERSE: Magazine Jewels
Marrakech | TravelMay 26, 2008

Salam Alekum: I Am in Marrakech!

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New York JFK Airport Royal Air Maroc check-in:

A large group of African women dressed in multicolored long Kaftans makes me realize that I unfortunately packed the wrong clothes. My summer wardrobe consists of tiny Abercombie & Fitch shorts, mini skirts, t-shirts and tank tops. It's the first time in my life that something like this has happened. I've got that strange feeling that I'm going to learn something different this trip.

"Manicure Miss?" I have time. At a spa close to my gate, I pick out a bright orange nail polish. I've never used this color before. My feet are in someone's hands, and with my eyes closed, I am finally starting to dream about a distant and unknown mosque... Suddenly I hear an announcement over a loudspeaker... several times, and it's not a Salat... It's my name they are calling, my last call! I am apparently late for my flight and my nails are still wet; the whole plane heading to Casablanca is waiting for my pedicure to dry.

I decide to run barefoot with the resort Marc Jacobs in my hand. As I enter the aircraft, all the passengers clap their hands very loudly, while the tall, tanned flight attendant whispers in my ear a little intrigued "Why a manicure? You are flying to Morocco where the best Mehndi is available. Silly of you, don't you think?"

I've had thoughts only the next day when the plane landed. The red dust of the landscape mixed with the evident Sub-Saharan heat made me realize one thing: The color of the nail polish... that at least, I got right.

I am a staying at a friend's ryad, inside the South Medina, (Arabic for "city") in the Zitoun El-Jedid (Neighborhood of Olives). I'm near the Mellah, the historically Jewish quarter, the oldest section of Marrakech and the past domain of Sultans and their retinues. Hassan, dressed in a long orange cotton djellaba and red Fez hat (my grandfather used to wear one) welcomes me holding a card with my name at the entrance of the Medina. "Salam Aleki, Madame Joelle".

Cars are not allowed, so Hassan takes my wheeled luggage and leads me to a confluence of several ancient, salmon-pink,  crenelated walled alleys full of pedestrians, bicycles, scooters, donkey carts, motorbikes, cats, children playing soccer in the manner of Brazilians, small antique shops, carpets dealers, and lot and lots of men calling me Gazelle.

At the end of a short alley, a small wooden door opens in front of me. The door has two brass knobs in the shape of Khamsah : one on top for men, the other, lower, for women. No need to knock....

Hassan disappears with my suitcase. Queen Nour's blue eyes are always the same; she's there waiting for me and she smiles.

Today listen to: Kissat Hob

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