Location: Marrakech, Morocco
An adventure searching for the perfect derelict Riad, through the constuction itself, to the end result (insha'Allah!)

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Another week in the magical red city

The anticipation of furnishing Riad Romm'an was getting the better of us, but we must be patient as we still have a long way to go.  Planning permission may have been granted, but that really is just the start of the construction project and many decisions still need to be made.  On Friday we spent a long, hot day (35 degrees) on the roof terrace of Riad Bel Haj with Grant Rawlings of Chic Marrakech discussing the designs and agreeing detailed finishes for Riad Romm'an. We talked Mashrabiya, zellij, bijmat and telissa, what type of tiles for the floor and what style of ceiling decorations, fountains, fireplaces, cornicing and plasterwork.  There's a lot to decide, but as tempting as it is to have it all as there are so many beautiful morocccan design features, it is important not to make a mish-mash of the interior design and to not overwhelm the senses.

With a whole week in Marrakech, in order to satisfy our appetite for all things moroccan, it was therefore necessary to search out some bargains by wandering around the souks within the walls of the ancient medina of the magical red city.  After many enjoyable hours practicing Arabic with shop keepers with many "assalamu alaykum", "wa alaykum assalam", "la shukran's" and "maa salaama's" we happened upon a small doorway on Rue des Ksours where we spied some beautiful antique moroccan doors.  Our curiosity grew as we turned down the narrow corridor which turned left and then right and ended in another ancient doorway.  Without having to say 'open sesame', we slowly opened the door and peeked inside to find an Aladdin's cave of treasures.  The sight which greeted us was like something out of the tales of the Arabian Nights, stacked floor to ceiling with antique furniture, tables, doors, windows, chests, carpets, tureens, jars, plates, boxes, mirrors, vases, etc.  Dar Essalam is one of many such shops in the medina, stacked full of arabian delights.  Visit the old city of Marrakech and it's impossible not to be struck by a sense of living antiquity and by the gems that fill the emporia hidden within its shadows.  Explore the teeming souqs and you decend down through layer upon layer, onion skins of life, stretching back centuries and more.

Mr Jiddi, the shopkeeper appeared 'as if by magic' and after a brief discussion in which we outlined our moroccan table requirements, he led us into another room, then another, then upstairs to another, then another, then upstairs again to more rooms, all as full of antiquties as the previous one.  It was as if history was being stored here in secret.  After considering many different pieces, we eventually found two similar tables we liked, one large and one small.  So the haggling began, eventually reducing Mr Jiddi down to a third of his starting price.  We shook hands and thought about how we would get them home, expecting an additional cost for shipping.  However, the shopkeeper had taken a shine to us given our efforts at speaking Arabic.  He suggested the cheapest way to ship the tables would be to take them to the post office.  We therefore arranged to come back the next day and his assistant would take us to the post office to arrange posting back to the UK and as he knew the post office staff well, he would get us the best price.  We were a bit nervous about buying the tables without any idea of how much it would cost us to send them home, but having sent a carpet back previously we took a chance.  Next morning at 9am we went back to the shop and the two tables were neatly packaged up, one inside the other.  We picked up the rather large and heavy package and followed the shopkeeper's assistant off down the derbs and narrow passageways to the post office which is on the southern side of Jma el Fna Square.  We were struggling with the size and weight of the package and as we passed some men hanging around their hand pulled carts, one of them offered to carry the package for us on his cart.  We agreed and this made the rest of the journey much easier.

The very helpful Mr Handcart man with our tables
We gave Mr Jiddi's assistant a 100 dirham note and told him to give Mr Handcart man 20 dirham and to keep the rest, which was well received.  When we arrived at the post office there was a lot of negotiating between the shopkeeper's assistant and the Post Office man.  Between them they weighed the package a number of times until they were happy that it had somehow cheated the scales and reduced from 29 to 21 kilos, just by turning it around a few times.  We filled out the forms, paid our money and left the tables with the Post Office man.  If we ever see the tables again, it will be a miracle...but then the magical city and its friendly people will make you believe anything is possible!

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