On August 30, Repertoart sent their new correspondent John lancaster from Canada to Marrakesh, Morocco on a rug buying trip. Over the following 4 weeks repertoart will be publishing his findings from the cities and souks of Morocco.
THE ROAD TO MARRAKECH
Marrakesh was seriously hot. Amost every day was at least 43 degrees, cloudy and very humid. Moroccans open their conversations with weather woes, not too dissimilar to Canadians in the cold of winter. It had been exhausting choosing the Moroccan rugs from adibs store and I was so desperate to get to the coast to a cooler climate. We had to leave and adib was happy to take us.
One thing i need to say here is in all our travels through Morocco one thing has stood out to us more than anything - how amazing it is that something so distant, something so universally opposed could work so utterly well together. I speak of course of the sublime way Moroccan rugs fit in with modern western design. This place is so utterly remote from what we are used to in the west, but isnt it astonishing how well they work together. I mean take this collection of vintage Moroccan rugs by East Unique, (we met them in their Marrakech store and they helped us immeasurably), they show perfectly with their in-situ pics how to blend the timeless Moroccan rug with modern western interior design. Colorful azilals offset a white brand new kitchen, a 50 year old Beni Ourain finishes a modern beautiful penthouse apartment. They fit together like fingers in a glove.
And so the plains outside of Marrakesh are dry and desolate, only occasionally punctuated by towns and palm oases. There are scrubby argan trees along the side of the highway, whose kernels are harvested to make oil for food and beauty products. Goats like to eat the nuts straight from the source, and climb the trees to the get them. Goatherds are happy to take a few dirhams from tourists for photos. There are a few cities, the most notable being Chichaoua, famous for its eponymous monochromatic red rugs. Mustafa and I stop in Chichaoua for fried chicken and so I can make several withdrawals from an ATM to settle a deal we had made in Marrakesh for wedding blankets. I am surprised that my bank in Canada allows this. I give Mustafa his 8000 dirhams. Buddy is fed and Daddy is rich.
We arrive in Sidi Kaouki, a small seaside town 13 kilometers from Essaouira. The air is cooler, and the villa that Mustafa has rented is comfortable and clean. There are a few restaurants, guests houses and surf shops along the coast, and surfers—both Moroccan and tourists—bob just past the breakers. Groups of Moroccan boys play soccer on the beach and guides snooze against their idle camels. I observe all this from the patio of our villa. The heat and hustle of Marrakesh has exhausted me, and I'm content to sit in a comfortable chair and look at the Atlantic ocean, grateful that I am not in a carpet shop. Mustafa gets bored and disappears with the Logan while I return inside in search of English satellite TV channels . I find a children's movie and nod off for a little.
Mustafa returns with cold beer, white wine, two tagines, and a greasy paper bag of fried shrimp and calamari. The mood has lifted. We have been spending too much time with each other— especially because we don't know each other that well—and the latent transactional character of our relationship has made the vibe a little terse and awkward at times. We eat and drink on the patio and talk about our families. Mustafa has two little girls who live in Germany and he misses them greatly. They are homeschooled and live on an organic farm with his German wife, and come to Marrakesh only a few times a year. Mustafa hustles hard to make money to support them, and he never stops working. Even as we eat he conducts business on his phone, which, like mine, has as many pictures of rugs as it does of his children.
The next day we drive to Essaouira. By now, I am used to Mustafa's driving and it doesn't phase me as he accelerates to 120 kilometers an hour in blind curves on a narrow road. I scoff at the gas light. The air feels wonderful and I am excited to go to Essaouira, a very relaxed city by Moroccan standards. We walk by the main harbor where the fishing boats are docked. Stray cats and gulls compete for fish remnants and fishermen bring in the day's catch. We stroll through the main square on our way to get soup at Mustafa's friend's restaurant. Along the way Mustafa upbraids a man for mistreating a donkey, admonishes some kids for getting too close to us while they're playing soccer, and gives money to every single beggar we see. Like in Marrakesh, Mustafa knows everyone; it is impossible to walk more than a few meters before he stops to greet friends with the double cheek kiss and longer-than-casual conversations. We eat soup, buy some argan oil, and go to Patisserie Driss for coffee and pain au chocolat before we return to our patio, satellite TV, and swimming pool in Sidi Kaouki. The respite has been welcome, but there is still much work to do in Marrakesh, and Mustafa and I are getting antsy.