Still in limbo while waiting to hear if important people like the new book, so I am concentrating on Morocco.
Marrakech seems much more prosperous than when I was last there six or seven years ago. There are dozens of smart riads, building sites everywhere, satellite dishes overlapping as closely as fish scales, and bars so cool and full of pretty people they could be in Ibiza or Rio. Djemaa el Fnaa is still home to the rip-off orange juice men, sheep’s head merchants, fortune tellers and snake charmers of old, but it is as if they and the mobs of ambling visitors are engaged in a mutually ironic and modern nod to each other – ‘here we are in the Marrakshi sunset scene, amiably conning and being conned, isn’t it what you do, before going on for dinner?’ – rather than facing off for real. In this savvy centre, the snake man probably writes a blog. Quite likely his cobras do too. (‘Rather a dim crowd out tonight. Not one decent scream when I gave my best sway in the basket’).
Maybe I’m imagining it but the souk seems cleaned up. I bought some new painted bowls to replace the ones that have got broken over the years, but you can’t lose your way any more. There are neat blue overhead signs and arrows pointing you back in the right direction. Levels of carpet-insistence and small-boy-pester are much lower, which makes shopping a pleasanter experience – if that matters – but it means life must be easier for the Marocains. In the honey pot of Marrakech, at least.
Out here on the coast life is much slower and quieter. A man and his donkey have been settled on the sand, looking out across the lagoon, for much of the day. They both wear battered straw hats. There are plenty of line fishermen on the rocks that enclose the lagoon, and a fleet of blue and white painted boats bring in the catch for the fish restaurants. At breakfast we asked for sea urchins for our lunch, and they were brought in all spiny straight off the rocks. We scooped the flesh out of the little conker-sized shells in silent greedy concentration.
There are famous oyster beds here too, producing big, fat oysters much appreciated by weekending types from Rabat and Casa. Midweek and outside high season, as it is now, it’s very quiet and all the better for that. Sultan Mahommed V built a huge seaside villa here, but it’s derelict now and falling down under the sky. For some reason it’s still heavily guarded, and photography is not encouraged.
There’s not a lot to do, apart from walk and sunbathe and read. I have read and loved Simon Armitage’s witty book Walking Home, about the Pennine Way, and the new le Carre.
Tomorrow, a drive south down the coast to Agadir.