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Essaouira doors

The doors we open and close each day decide the lives we live. So said Flora Whittemore, an American woman who lived till 103 and so no doubt knew a thing or three about life.  I have had a fascination with doors for as long as I can remember. At various stages in my life I’ve wanted them open, always open, even into the bathroom. At other stages, I’ve wanted them closed. More times I didn’t care much one way or another. I never stop long enough to wonder why. I just accept. I go through phases. One phase that has been pretty constant though is wanting to know what lies behind the various doors I’ve wandered past, down various streets, in various villages, towns, cities, and countries. And for a door lover, Morocco is door heaven, the town of Essaouira in particular.

Essaouira doors

 

Essaouira doors

Essaouira doors

 

The mosaic tiling. The carved stone. The metal studs. The doors of Essaouira, in various stages of repair or disrepair, all lead to other worlds, to God knows what. The blue that is somewhat universally associated with Morocco is vibrant no matter how faded it is.

Essaouira doors

Essaouira doors

Essaouira doors

Essaouira doors

 

And even when you add the ubiquitous graffiti, the doors of Essaouira still leave so much to the imagination. Perhaps it’s the colours that I’m so taken with. Or the sturdiness. Or the fact that they suggest former days of glory. Perhaps they’re some sort of analogy for aging gracefully, of shabby chic, of a slow but beautiful wearing away of glitz and glam. Even doors that aren’t doors at all front a story. I have no clue why they fascinate me so.  But fascinate me they do.

Essaouira doors

Essaouira doors

Essaouira doors

Essaouira doors

 

Morocco wasn’t ever really on my list of places to go. Well, not high up there, anyway. I had never heard of Essaouira. I still have a smidgin of trouble getting my head around the fact that it’s in Africa. And while I have often thought I could never live in an Islamic society – and still could never, ever, live anywhere that enforced Sharia law – a door, once shut, has now opened. Morocco changed my mind.

PS. Check out Steve McCurrry’s photos of doors – spectacular

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After the hustle that was the souks of Marrakesh, it was a refreshing change to wander about the souks in the medina in Essaouira where ‘no thanks’ was accepted as a polite rebuke, only occasionally met with eyes thrown to heaven or mutterings about what I assume was the equivalent of ‘bloody foreigners’. And in Essaouira, the mix was surreal: carcasses of meat hanging between the latest designer knockoffs.

Essaouira souk

Essaouira souk

Sunshine during the day was lovely. Lots of cafés to stop off in and watch the world go by. Plenty of mosques to create a cacophony five times daily, including one just across the street from our blue-shuttered flat. The couple of days I spent in bed, sick, were interesting to say the least. I really should have paid more attention to the list of restaurants the landlady left for us. Her note beside one saying it was okay to eat the salads there should have rung an alarm bell and made me realise that it might not be okay to eat the salads elsewhere. Add that to taking over-the-counter antibiotics and overdosing on the paracetamol and it was a recipe for disaster.

Essaouira shopping

Essaouira shops

Essaouira

Moroccan flats are bloody cold in winter. No heating systems. Twenty-four degrees outside and four degrees inside. I had plenty of time to wonder what I’d do were I to move over and I’m still none the wiser. That said, I think I still want to give it a go.

The view from the flat looked down over a row of shops, one of which was kept going into the small hours of the morning, whatever it was he was selling.  The rooftops are covered with satellite dishes. Internet is cheap – just €2 for 400 MB and about €12 for a data card to make your own home wifi. It’s all a little at odds with the other-worldly feeling that permeates the place.

man on bike in Essaouira

Essaouira carpets and rugs

And much and all as I like to drive, being in a world within walls where no cars are allowed was very therapeutic. The whole place is a Unesco Heritage Site and so well it should be protected. A bolthole from the madness that lives just over the parapets.

My wish for 2016 is that I somehow find the money to buy a flat somewhere, just so that I can come back to Essaouira and furnish it. The carpets. The sconces. The leather. The pottery. The bedspreads. The choices. Truly a shopping heaven and so very very different from the proliferation of sameness that has beset the highstreets of Europe.

Essaouira walls

But outside the walls that enclose this sleepy haven, the tides push and pull, fighting to make themselves heard. The surf rages. The seagulls compete with the muezzins come prayer time. It’s all in such stark contrast and from the inside looking out, quite spectacular. A fitting place indeed for Jimmy Hendrix to have written When the wind cries Mary.

Essaouira Hendrix

Essaouira ocean

Essaouira seagull

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I’d be hard pushed to choose between a day by the sea or a day at the races. So any day that I can have both (of a sort) is a good one. Essaouira, a fishing town on the west coast of Morocco, about 3 hours by bus and €7 from Marrakesh, is famous for its surf. The Alizée winds are strong, the waves are high, and the thrill is there for the taking.

In the distance you can see the Island of Mogador, which now requires special permission to enter. It was once home to a massive open-air prison where pilgrims from Mecca would stay for 40 days to see if they were sick or not. And it had a mosque (where doesn’t?)

Essaouira beach surfing

This late eighteenth-century fortified town of Essaouira is quite something. The town itself has been trading since the fifth century; it’s the fortified walls that went up some thirteen hundred years later. Outside the walls, a crescent-shaped beach wraps around the town adding even more strength to the fortification as the waves pound the rocks and spray the gallery of tourists who gather on the ramparts to watch the sun go down.

Essaouira sunset

Essaouira ocean view

On any given day of the week, the musicians are out in force. Sit for a while at a beach café and it won’t take long for them to find you. Essaouira is far more relaxed when it comes to beer than Marrakesh – perhaps something to do with the sun? Or the surf? Or the type of tourist it attracts.

Essaouira beach battle on horses

Soldiers on horses Essaouira

Who knows? Whatever is going on, the rules in this Wind City of Africa seem a lot more lax and certainly the hassle factor is far softer.

It was here on New Year’s Eve that the culture of the country went on show, starting with horseracing of sorts on the beach. Saddles of Berber soldiers rushed at the promenade brandishing their muskets, screaming their war cries, and then letting loose their final volley. It was quite the spectacle with riders young and old alike, and some too cool for school.

Essaouira horses riders guns

Essaouira sunbathing on the beach

For the princely sum of €3.50, you could rent a sunchair and a pair of eyes to keep watch on your stuff. But the tide was out and the water was miles away. The sun was warm but the wind was biting. Getting wet would be no problem but drying off would certainly take some time. The tourists were in various stages of undress and no one seemed to mind. But it was interesting to see the locals well wrapped up – the complete opposite of how it used to be in Alaska with the locals in shorts and tshirts on days that the cruise ships docked and disgorged teams of hatted, mitted, and scarved tourists.

Essaouira musicians on parade

Essaouira musicians on parade

 

At 3.30, the parade started. Groups of different types of musicians, presumably different clans or tribes, lined up to take their spot under the watchful eye of a suited and booted official. Most of the instruments were variations a theme. Drums, bugles, more drums, more bugles.

But it was yer man with a cake pan on his head that took my fancy. He was fascinating. Keeping balance and keeping time. What talent. Him I could have followed, had I not had places to go and things to see.

Essaouira horsback parade

Essaouira musicians on parade

Essaouira musicians on parade

Essaouira musicians on parade

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