Some years before:
Summertime is approaching – vacation planning. Heading south is a must! The kids are now mature enough to experience a foreign country beyond the pleasures of sunshine, sea and swimming. North Africa maybe?
As a student I travelled through Morocco and Algeria with friends. Back then we headed east from Tangier along the Mediterranean coast: The Rif Mountains, Ketama, Tetouan, Al Hoshima, stopovers on the way to Algeria. The country's border crossings are repeatedly closed owing to the ongoing fights with the Polisario. We are not in a hurry. We just wait and enter at the next opportunity. There are scarcely any Europeans anymore, just penury, reserved and distrustful people. We have a car accident and get stuck in Mostaganem, a one-horse town on the coast. For weeks there are no spare parts to repair the car and we have troubles with the insurance and the visa renewal. We are forced to sell everything that could be converted to cash. Algerian students on vacation grant us shelter in their huge military tent on the beach. All of them dreaming of a life in Europe seeing no future here, just wanting to get out of their country. Some of them pester us to smuggle them into France in our car. We refuse, whereupon one tries to take his own life by going into the sea although, or more to the point because, he could not swim. We rescue him just at the last moment.
Weeks pass by, it is the month of Ramadan and the car repair is dragging along; slowly our situation is getting tense. At the University back home the winter semester has already started when we can finally leave Algiers for Marseille.
Despite of, or maybe because of, all these mishaps, a gratifying reminiscence of this journey remains. So much so that now – many years later – I would like to travel this part of Africa again together with my family. Moreover, at this time there are plenty of reports about Morocco: about Tangier and Marrakech being trendy destinations for French fashion designers, artists and eccentrics. We don't think twice, the decision is made, Morocco it is!
The usual Lonely Planet Guidebook as well as Canetti's "The Voices of Marrakesh", Paul Bowles' "The Sheltering Sky" and reports and articles from Vogue and Bazaar are part of our preparations.
Morocco fulfills and even surpasses all our expectations. We follow those footprints set down in literature through Marrakech: immerse ourselves in the hustle and bustle of the Djemaa Al Fna, the lively town square; dine at one of the many food stalls; drink freshly pressed juice from not very presentable, but surprisingly tasty oranges. I down a cup of snails in a hot sauce under the worrying gaze of my family. Late evening: drinking sweet peppermint tea at a café with a view of the steamy, smoky and colorful scenery of the square below. The same café, some years later, will be the target of a bloody terrorist attack.
Visiting the Jardin Majorelle – Yves St. Laurent's botanical and architectonical treasure – is like a trip to a laid back exotic island in the middle of the city; palaces, museums, the Hotel Mamounia. There are inspiring impressions at every turn.
We drive from Marrakech eastwards, by Land Rover, to the Atlantic coast, to Essaouira, the former Mogador of the Portuguese. A striking change from a hustling and bustling Marrakech to this small tranquil village which is chilly – even in summer – due to an incoming wind from the Atlantic Ocean. The outside view of the Riad Al Madina appears unspectacular. Inside it is a colorful jewel. Room and bathroom plastered in multicolored Tadelakt technique with multitudinous mosaics. The Atrium boasts a small fountain; every morning two women cover the surface of the water with rose petals, diligently, separately, one by one. A graceful ceremony