Monday, 30 April 2012

Maxi skirts and Morocco

A long time ago, I wrote this about maxi skirts. I have changed my mind.

Last week I went to Morocco. It was my first visit to a Muslim country (albeit a pretty relaxed one) and I decided not to be That Tourist, cheerfully oblivious to the dress code at her destination of choice. I saw one chap (orange tan, sailor tattoos) striding across Jemaa El Fna in shorts and flipflops and nothing else, and thought " tit."

I brought floorlength dresses and one pair of jeans, with a variety of long-sleeved tops to cover my shoulders & collarbone with, and some scarves to cover my hair. One dress was madly patterned, Pucci-style, in purple, blue, green and acid yellow; I wore a thin acid yellow jumper on top. Another was in two layers of sheer grey chiffon, over which I wore Topshop's ribbed nut-coloured cropped top, and the third was a recent purchase; a perfect, plain black jersey racerback dress. It's floorlength but not especially roomy; it still hugs the figure at one's curvier extremes, falling gracefully from the knees downwards. Amazing with the loose acid saffron separates that Monki do right now, but even better with a sheer, tomato-red lurex batwing jumper. I wore headscarves that complemented the colours of the clothes; with the black and red, I wore a flowery silk scarf in similar colours. There is an art to tying a headscarf in such a way that it stays atop one's bonce and conceals most of the hair, but does not look as though one has bandaged one's head.

For someone used to wearing less...sedate clothes, it was a strange departure, and one I really enjoyed. I felt elegant in my head-to-toe attire. I felt dignified, and if anyone had made any cheeky remarks, I think I would have felt qualified to fix them with my most owlish hard stare, a bit like my Year 10 science teacher used to do. I didn't feel frumpy, as I feared I might; I guess that's down to the cut of the clothes. They didn't swamp me - one could still see basically what shape I was - but they left much more to the imagination than, I guess, elegant and more typically western clothes do. Wearing such long clothes definitely made me feel more grown-up - and quite a lot taller.

Marrakech itself was wonderful; a festival of colour and noise and scent. Animals everywhere; the streets are filled with untidy but seemingly quite content and friendly cats, donkeys navigate the crowded alleyways tugging high-laden carts, horses pull carriages and the sound of birdsong is cacophonous and quite distinct; certain phrases reverberated in my head for days afterwards. Everywhere you go, you can smell mint and cumin, often interrupted by the less glamorous smells of the street but there were very few genuinely unpleasant pongs.

The colour is something else; predominantly a clay-pink city, the rainbow colours of the souks dominate everything. Every shopkeeper puts his wares on full display; one of the prettiest things was the frequent 8-foot high displays of coloured slippers. Every colour seems brighter, and every spice seller and apothecary (of which there are hundreds) calls out, "Excuse me! What is this??", pointing to one or another mysterious ware to pique your curiosity.

It's not a city for the claustrophobic or misanthropic but it is wildly beautiful and exciting, and if you settle into the pull-and-push of it, very welcoming. One charming young apothecary first loaded us up with free gifts and then sat us down for some mint tea, brought alive by an eye-opening burst of eucalyptus (my mother nearly spluttered her tea out on tasting it), and chatted with us for 45 minutes in French and English, teaching us Arabic words and knowing full well that we'd buy a good selection of his wares. When we made to leave and find some lunch, he fetched his brother to ferry us to the rooftop of nearby riad for a hearty lunch.

Of course, they all made a tidy sum from our custom, but we had one of the nicest meals of the entire stay, and got one of the best possible introductions to the city - as well as a lifetime's supply of eucalyptus crystals, oregano and ras el hanout mixed spice, and a ceramic lip stain (you wet your finger and run it along the gold-painted ceramic ornament, and it comes off red on your finger). The moral: stay and take a guess, when they ask you "What is this??" And remember to say thank you - 'shukran'!

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