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Down one of the countless alleyways off the main square in the souk of Marrakech

We had been on an extended venture in Spain, then took a short flight across the Mediterranean, landing in Casablanca. I am not quite sure what we expected, but Casablanca is a thriving, bustling place much more modern than we had anticipated.

One of the most impressive tours we have been on took us to the Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca. Built right on the Atlantic Ocean, it is one of the largest mosques in the world. It has an exquisiteness about it that is nearly overpowering, with delicate artistry everywhere- a remarkable achievement. Just look at this interior:

We left Casablanca and headed to Marrakech.

We stayed at La Mamunia, actually right where Sir Winston Churchill, the British Prime Minister, stayed. He was an avid painter, and used to set up his easel in the tranquil gardens surrounding the hotel.

The place is sumptuous, and the Old World service is impeccable. Costumed staff nearly swarmed over us as we arrived, and we needed them all, as the place has steps and (at that time) no ramps. They merely carried us in, and we were set.

We unpacked, then left to go into the city. What a difference! Within mere minutes, we were transported from this luxurious, modern hotel to a place of a different time and culture. A place where the past thousand years or so has changed little or nothing.

For whatever else, Marrakech is known for its famous market, centered around the town square, Jemaa l-Fna. The square is ugly, it is dirty, and it is phenomenal!

There are snake charmers, exotic foods, noise, heat, delectable odors (and some NOT so delectable). But what is really smashing is that from this vast open space, you can wander off into the interior of the markets, strolling carefree and undirected along the covered streets, known as suugs.

But there is also the hushed and quiet beauty of this garden:

Majorelle Garden, Marrakesh, presently owned by designer Yves_Saint-Laurent

Got to talk about the market a bit more. The locals know where they are going, of course, but as a tourist, you will become disoriented immediately, losing all sense of direction. But in this case, this is a good thing, and a great part of the charm of this place, where you wander from an area dealing in leather goods, to another dealing in dyed fabrics, to yet another dealing in who knows what?

As we were strolling along, under the wary stare of a thousand eyes to whom someone in a wheelchair is a curiosity, we came across a fellow sitting in an alleyway. He was a maker of chess pieces and chess sets, unremarkable, except for the fact he was missing the function of one of his arms.

With his feet, this fellow loaded raw wood into a wood turning lathe. Holding the chisels and tools with his right foot, he turned the wheel by means of a bow he drew back and forth with his functioning right hand. He made several pieces for us, and “handed” them to Nancy with his foot. If you’ve ever had anyone “hand” something to you with a foot, you’ll know immediately what we're talking about when we say it is a jolting experience, one you will not forget!

He could have been a beggar; he could have been homeless. He could have drenched himself in alcohol or drugs, but he didn’t. He fought back in every way he could to maintain his dignity and independence.

A man after our own hearts, that one. I think of him, his courage, his ingenuity, and his indomitable spirit from time to time. Though we are worlds apart in time and culture, we are kindred souls.

Yes, it is difficult, but worth the effort. We also would like to offer an interesting blog that features information for Marrakech and for all of Morocco as well. It is called The View From Fez.

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