Christmas at EssaouiraPosted: December 26, 2011
And so we have been indulging in 10 days with family. We can hardly believe Elizabeth has been able to arrive from London and Adam, Freda, Zenya (4yrs) and Ryke (2yrs) endured about 44 hours total travel to be here from Australia.
Essaouria is a wonderful place for a family holiday. Being an Islamic country there is very little evidence of Christmas, but we of course, have made it our own and opted for a roast – Aussie/London style.
Essaouira is as old as the Phoenicians that settled here as early as 700 BC. Its life as a port and a city has ebbed and flowed over the centuries and been lorded over by Roman, Arab, Portuguese and French – to name but a few! One of its most famous landmarks are the Ramparts overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. French designed in the 18th century they are furnished with 20 Spanish brass cannons – a striking symbol of defence and reminder of the wealth that once needed protection here.
Previously called Mogador, Essaouira was renamed when redesigned after the conquest of the city by Sultan Sidi Mohammed ben Abdallah in the 18th century. The name means “well designed!” Today it could be described as “shabby chic!” Just a lot more shabby than chic, with a bit of a “I’m still cool from the 50’s & 60’s” attitude. Orsen Welles chose the city to film his movie “Othello”. It is said, legend or myth, that Jimmi Hendrix spent time in the city and Yusuf Islam (Cat Stevens) still returns every summer.
We make an interesting group as we wander through the medina market streets. Antonio and I observe from behind. Heads turn as Elizabeth’s attractive dark looks stroll past and then there is the rest of the family. Adam (Australias 5 th strongest man), Freda (competition winning body builder ) and two munchkins who just smile and look and want to touch everything as they stare wide eyed at the multitude of street cats, spices, rare and unusual fruit, even the beggars.
Adam has collected a little fray of friends. In particular “quadbike” Rashid, who not only took him wild boar shooting, (an activity not on any brochure for tourists) but he also introduced them to Abdullah. Here began a great association with an icon of the body building/weight lifting world such that exists in Essaouira. Abdullah has run his tiny, one room gym for 20 years with a passion understood by Freda and Adam and has been honoured to have them use his gym to train.
In between lounging In the 4 level, 4 bedroom, 4 bathroom, interior designed Riad, complete with the lovely Latiffa who comes every day to clean, sometimes cook, help us order firewood etc, (see http://www.castlesinthesand.com) there is always plenty to do.
Shopping, camel riding, cooking classes, big boys toy rides, riding Barb stallions on the beach!!! (yes, I mean stallions!!!), carpet haggling, pancake or ice-cream eating, restaurant selecting or just walking around the block.
Our neighbourhood is residential mixed with little “hole in the wall” enterprises providing the locals their living – the tailor, the baker, the carpenter, the pastry chef. We try to buy pastries daily, freshly baked all through the day. Different specialities keep arriving on the counter and at one dirham (about 10 cents) a treat it’s madness to refuse.
A favourite of the boys – the local barber. The young man with a “haute coiffure” insignia on his white coat is a professional. Sterilising his razor and putting in a new blade for every customer he spends his day sometimes busy, sometimes not. If not he stands watching the world go by, jacket off and leaning in the doorway of his one chair salon.
There is of course, also pampering for women. A good Hamman is a good pamper, including a treatment that leaves you “squeaky clean” and is close to everymans fantasy!!! Let’s just say, if you have ever been to one, you know what I mean – Wink Wink! The Azur (www.azur-essaouira.com) was delux and the best 2 hr beauty treatment any of us had ever had. An interesting experience at any time and perhaps even more so when shared with, technically speaking, your fairly recently acquired step daughter and daughter in law!!
Still, its not all “squeaky clean” in Essaouira. What was new, French designed and chic in the 18th century, is now, of course, really old. Life is lived on the streets and it shows. Public hygiene and rubbish collection does not seem to be a local government platform.
If you have a squeamish stomach and are not too sure about seeing rubbish piling in streets due to lack of bins or cats eating fish bones underneath the coals that cooked them or meat that is never refrigerated or plumbing that never quite drains and always smells, Essaouira, even Morocco, may not be the place for you. If it’s possible to “turn a blind eye” you gain a deeper understanding of life in this part of Africa; the importance of spices; the benefit of strong scents of rose water, orange flower oil and a steaming, hot scrubbing clean at the local Hamman.
After tomorrow our little family peels off daily. Firstly Elizabeth, the next day the Adam Famdamily, and finally us. We will cherish the memories.
Happy Christmas Everyone