Buying All the Beautiful Things in Morocco’s Medinas

My good friend Neda, who is one of my all-around favorite people, came to visit me in Morocco. (Our first Morocco visitor, yay!) I thought that a surf-and-yoga retreat I’d heard about sounded like a perfect friends’ getaway for us. See a new part of this beautiful country and be super active with my adventurous friend. But when I started writing this blog post on surf-yoga camp, I found I’d spent hundreds of words and many photos documenting the shopping extravaganzas we embarked upon before surf-yoga camp, so this post is about that: What happens when someone who shares your love of fashion, home decor, design, and funky objects comes to visit Morocco, design mecca of Africa. (Ha, I don’t really know this for sure, as it’s my first-ever African country). So, later this week: The adventure that was surf-yoga camp and my was it an adventure.

But first, Neda arrived a few weeks ago and we had a day in Rabat before heading to surf-yoga camp. And so we shopped like it was our literal jobs. Seriously, people thought we were buyers for an American company. Nope, just for ourselves! A plug for the Rabat medina, which gets overlooked by tourists who generally go to Marrakesh and Fez and Tangier and maybe skip Rabat altogether: It’s really good and there is so much beautiful stuff, all for reasonable prices. It’s also a no-pressure shopping experience. Neda and I bought a lot of rugs (shaggy, colorful, vintage ones for me), blankets, and she bought a beautiful butterscotch leather pouf. (As the animal rights type of vegetarian, I don’t buy leather, and so I’ll sadly miss out on getting a pouf or ten).

After a euphoric shopping jaunt and a really good Syrian dinner downtown, and maybe a gin and tonic or two, we had husband take pictures of us rolling around with our goodies because who doesn’t like staging a nice vignette and then playing in it with a friend?

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The following day, we were off to surf and yoga camp, located way south of Rabat. But first, an overnight in Marrakesh. To get there, we  took a five-hour train, an experience that was mostly defined by sweat as our “first-class” tickets put us in a little six-person cabin in which the air was not working for most of the blazing-sun-afternoon journey. But look how pretty this picture of the Marrakesh train station is. I was able to take it after wiping down my iPhone camera of sweat droplets.

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I’m discovering that part of the charm of Morocco’s old cities is that you search through tiny labyrinthine streets to find what you’re looking for, often asking strangers for help so when you finally locate the teensy little door to your riad (old Arab house-turned-hotel) it’s such a welcome treat because it took so freakin’ long to find it. Riads all have a center courtyard, gorgeous tile, arched doorways, and lucky for us, the one we stayed at in Marrakesh – Riad Dar Mouassine – had a little pool. Super relaxing, and not expensive at all.

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And then, more shopping! People had warned me the vendors in Marrakesh can be aggressive and the prices are much higher than say in Rabat, but we didn’t find that to be the case.

Neda also makes friends with everyone, so all the people from whom we bought things invited us for tea next time we were in town. Like a this cool guy from whom we both purchased some badass 1960s black and white photos featuring topless girls, which I have hanging in the guest bathroom to give visitors a little thrill while they use the loo.

A rug salesman at the elegant Khaldoun carpets showed us all around, and even though we didn’t buy anything, the next day when I passed by his shop, he looked up from his newspaper and said real casual, “Oh, hello Emily.” That delighted me! I was like, “How charming! Take all my money!” Jk, I had already done my rug shopping in Rabat and I didn’t want to lug anything heavy to surf-yoga camp. But I’ll be back, mwahahah.

We visited the Secret Garden, an old palace that dates back 400 years. Green is my favorite color and I loved all the shades of verdant hue.

Here’s what the Secret Garden looked like back in 2006. Quite the renovation!

Continuing on the green theme, we tucked in to an alley and found a stall with pottery in a stunning array of shades of green. The pottery comes from a village in the Sahara called Tamegroute. We were told by the delightful proprietor that that color comes, in part, from kohl and herbs. We both bought cool sculptures.

In the same alley was a family shop that sold the art of two brothers and their father. Neda fell in love with work of the patriarch, an 85-year-old man (that’s his son in the photo below) and she bought one of his cheerful paintings to hang in her Brooklyn apartment.

Then we walked to Yves Saint Laurent gardens and museum, called Jardin Majorelle, an attraction I’d been looking forward to for the past year, ever since we found out we’d be posted in Morocco. That blue! It’s called “Majorelle Blue” has to be one of the world’s prettiest colors.  (Right behind green, that is).

We had a few good meals on our short stay in Marrakesh, the best of which was at Dar Cherifa, a literary cafe and restaurant housed in a gorgeous and very old riad. The food was good, but I will say after seven weeks in Morocco, I could do without eating another vegetable tagine.

After one night in Marrakesh, we were on a bus en route to Agadir for surf-yoga camp. More on that next time!

To shopping with your gal pal anywhere in the world,

Emily

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