Once upon a time there was this small dusty town at the edge of the Medina. It was a huge decrepit filthy amazing series of connected passageways off the square.
In the old slave market currently being renovated was a shop with various animal pelts hanging from wires and stripes of cloth. Leopard, tiger, fox, rabbit, and long wide boa constrictor skins. There was a falcon in a cardboard box. There was an eagle.
The eagle was young and nervous in it's cage. It was two years old from the Atlas Mountains to the south. They wanted 2000 DH for the eagle. First price before haggling began.
The man wanted to buy the eagle, get on a Super Tour bus with French tourists, head up in the hills, find a village made of stone hidden in a distant blue fogged valley and climb high enough to release the eagle and trust it would be able to survive.
The sun burned past the Red City throwing light into dust as men shoveled their way through the earth, hauled stones from the ground into their broken wheelbarrows and dumped large round chipped stones in the site where a man in his straw hat picked them up and laid them end to end.
This was only the beginning. Donkeys clipped their way along the busted narrow road. Some hauled fruits and vegetables stacked in boxes to the clear blue sky. Others pulled wooden rolling semi-trailers of mattresses, end tables, odd furniture pieces to some far away home.
Homes were all cinder block. Men made the blocks, loaded them on trucks and pallets so donkeys could pull them to sites where they lay broken and whole waiting for generations to finish their education and get to work.
He figured he would be lucky to get it down and make sense of it later. He knew how it worked.
The donkeys pulled everything. Men and boys fixed bikes and inoperable scooters along the road. "Bus" 11 meant people without money walked with their babies strapped to their backs, old men in their djellabas hooded against the wind shuffled in their slippers.
Men in alleys stirred tea. They chopped leaves bought from the old man on his bike with fresh smelling mint spilling out of the crushed baskets. They brewed water, crammed leaves into a dented polished tea kettle, poured in water, threw in blocks of white sugar, closed the lid, poured some into a small glass, swished it around and poured it back into the tea pot. They poured tea for their guests and friends raising the pot high above the glasses so the murky sweet liquid would mix well.
Bad teeth in the country was a big problem.
A beggar shuffled past reciting the Koran as his open hand waited for a coin. Being Friday somebody would give him money.
Swarms of flies and countless starving cats patrolled the perimeter of the meat man chopping off white fat. Young kittens in deserted dark alleys lay waiting for death. It was inevitable.
Children going home from school sampled dates. Girls carried fresh kneaded bread to the local oven for baking. Veiled women babbled and haggled with sellers of henna, saffron, tumeric and piles of spices lining doorways along the narrow path.
For the last 1400 years this is what happened in the daily life of the souk. On the plaza a dancer in white robes with red sash and brilliant maroon hat wearing bells and clappers from the Sahara danced as his group pounded their drums. Mezmerized tourists dropped coins in a hat. Mesmerized.
They were blond, old people from the far north and fresh off the plane from another part of the planet. They had heard about the show of shows and seeing black cobras fan their heads as a musician played his flute brought out their change. Exchange rates were very favorable. Water sellers colorfully dressed with faces older than the desert charged for liquid and pictures.
Tour buses competed with humans, petite cabs, grand Mercedes taxis, pedestrians, horse drawn carriages, and desperate shoe shine boys banging on their wooden boxes as they casually inspected the shoes of men sitting idly in the cafe watching people.
A boy draped in clothing for sale wandered through the cafe and tried to interest a man in purchasing a khaki vest with many pockets; the latest Moroccan fashion statement. Men wore them buttoned and pressed with empty pockets. The man tried on a couple, they haggled over the price, the boy looked tired but persistent and eventually the man found some reason or excuse not to buy be it the price, size, or just too embarrassed to admit he didn't really want or need the item.
The boy gathered all his clothing and trudged on to the next group of men at another cafe. They read newspapers, smoked and chatted with friends. It was their oasis in the city.
You never saw women in the cafes unless they were foreign women with their friends, boyfriends, husbands. On the other hand you did see the occasional French women with her Moroccan man. She achieved her vacation dream.
Carpets of various color, size and quality were draped over the edges of roofs creating a patchwork against the red brick, blue sky and spires of the mosques with their gold crescent moon. Rows of men squeezed oranges into glasses for thirsty tourists.
Men beckoned people to "Have a look at my shop," endless miles of shops crammed with leather, ceramics, swords, clothing, lamps, rugs, hats, spices, lizards, imitation sports wear, knockoffs, wonderfully scented cedar tables as workmen in a one light bulb heaven scrapped their wood; varnishing children in airless spaces, men pounded leather on steel platforms as rich men in clean white starched shirts pressed pants and leather shoes, well manicured men sat near their Berber carpet shops discussing business and life as young men up and down the alleys competed with each other for the Dirhams.
Hot young sellers advertised "Adidas Berber," merchandise. The world was full of merchandise. Buyers and sellers all competing for the best deal, a steal. The art of negotiation played its hand. The quick and the dead.
On the plaza, the black cobra emerged from under a thin goatskin drum unravelling its three foot long body on the threadbare carpet. When tourists approached, its handler, a young boy, waved his hand close to the snake grabbing its attention. It reared and flared its black hood open quicker than a person might blink and immediately began weaving its body in time with the boy's gestures. They played an old game of survival, dancing and darting toward each other. Grateful tourists dropped coins on the carpet before wandering off for a meal, finding the deal of a lifetime or taking in the free show.
An old man hoping to sell some yarn played with the tuning dial on his old radio looking for better reception. Hustlers plied their language skills switching from German to English to French trying to start up conversations with potential customers. Everybody wanted a slice of the pie and now, with recent international disturbances, the numbers of visitors were down and would be dropping dramatically with the end of the summer season.
The foreign observer picked up a paper to read about Afghanistan from an international perspective, grabbed a small taxi and head to Jemma. There he found some high quality silver bracelets, inspected old Tuareg jewelry, rugs, carpets, bowls, dishes, green ionized utensils, a long bullwhip, elaborate Berber bags and junk. Below him in the courtyard men bought and sold bags of recycled pots, pans, brass, and silver as merchants haggled.
The day was hot and the souk was cool. Business was down due to international intrigue. He was getting ready to move on, head north toward Spain. As he walked past endless supplies of mass produced stuff for the tourists he slipped into photographing mode, a sense of capturing the light, looking for faces without being obtrusive.
He was lost on purpose, he knew every twist and turn and followed the smell of leather. Inside a small narrow corridor he turned. It was the older section. There, inside a small room a small boy applied coats of varnish or paste, or thick viscous liquid to leather. The man wanted to do his face but the older boy demanded too much money. They offered him a chair.
The bare room was 8x10 and the fumes were overwhelming. The boy was maybe 10. The man sat, negotiated and tried to keep from inhaling the fumes. No ventilation. A dim light, empty walls with leather punching tools, piles of treated leather, new leather needing the brush. They engaged in broken animated conversation and when the man knew they had no deal he abruptly left.
This was the only way to deal with some of these people, show them your back, show them the soles of your shoes. He left them in their place singing their songs and brushing down leather.
They were part of the production process puzzle.
He walked on, found a couple of quality silver bracelets and had tea with Lativa in the courtyard at the Marrekesh art museum. With a degree in psychology and journalism from Rabat and Casablanca and unable to get a job in her field, she worked the desk at the museum.
He wished her well, said goodbye and finished his time in the Red City making images of humanity floating through broken light beneath reeds under the sky.