The plan was to go and see a couple of the major gardens, but seeing us sitting in the courtyard googling Marrakech gardens, one of the hotel staff offered to take us onto the roof of the hotel. Up high he introduced us to a different world. The roof is a series of interconnected spaces all with a particular aspect of the city.
On one side the nearby and the grand mosques, surveying the city they serve. On another the old Jewish cemetery stretching away towards a line of the Atlas Mountains, which form the backdrop to a third side looking over rooftops, some of which are derelict and fallen in. There are purple hills visible through the trees beside the Bahia Palace. It is however, not the skyline, but the pageant below that catches our attention and keeps us there for hours, just watching the activity.
All the things we've seen at street level were present; the donkeys with carts; the tourist carriages pulled by pairs of horses; tuc tucs; people carrying large loads on their heads, but we saw much more besides. Opposite a couple of workshops with men pulling and twisting threads that were to be used to make up cloth; a laundry, where motor bike trailers arrived in the morning with duvets, sheets, huge piles of washing impossibly loaded onto such a small vehicle and driven to here through these narrow streets. There's a pot with something bubbling away on the pavement outside and two gas canisters providing fuel. Later we saw the front of the shop pulled open and washing being piled on and driven away, or people arriving to collect. In the little park beside the old walls, a pair of veiled women sat and chatted, a man called out to a woman carrying a tray of something covered up, on her head.
There was a stream of vehicles heading for the market places from early morning onwards. How the two men managed to get a huge coil of strip steel onto their cart, let alone hold it still on their journey to work, avoiding the almost certain encounter with a truck or hapless pedestrian is a mystery we'll never solve.
Our local erstwhile guide, who has pounced on us a few times before, sits on a bench in the shade of a tree. He has already spotted and carried away a couple of tourists who made the decision to stop to consult a map. He swept them off and away down the street past the cemetery and reappeared without them an hour or so later. Sometimes, just when you see fresh prey appear beside the dusty walls along which he prowled, you find yourself waiting for him to accost them as they hesitated, or looked up for directions. But he doesn't always leap out and occasionally, watches them from his lair with complete indifference. Somehow he knows which is a succulent morsel and which is not. Usually his sense is acute and accurate, but later in the day, he failed with a couple who, not only looked around with a hesitant manner and stopped to consult a map, but appeared to engage with him in conversation as he appeared at their side. We were very surprised when he returned to his seat in the shade. Perhaps they too spoke Welsh, but more likely Chinese. In Tangier, a guide said that the Chinese were becoming more regular travellers in and around Morocco.
It was when watching a man on a rooftop watering plants that we first became aware of the White stork flying overhead. We tracked its flight and watched closely as it circled away over a distant piece of green space, coming closer, until it took off across the Jewish cemetery and the roofs behind us and disappeared.
Our vigil of the world beneath continued as the day progressed. An old man, pulled a cart laden with wood; two women stopped to exchange greetings, or gossip, we couldn't tell from where we were, even if we had understood their language. People passed by, then returned, with or without the bags they had been carrying. Then we saw, not one, but two storks circling gracefully in the clear blue skies above. This time we watched as one of them landed on the roof of the nearest mosque. As the other flew further away, it became obvious that they had a huge pile of twigs stacked on the roof and that they either had young, or more likely were rebuilding the nest in preparation for a future brood. At this point we had not identified the species, but they looked like some kind of stork or ibis. We noticed that they were adding to the nest with some large pieces of what looked like cloth. Hanging from its beak the female, as we assumed, was trying to find the right place for the sleeve of a coat or jacket. I don't know much of the habits of the White stork, but I sincerely hope the previous occupant of that sleeve was absent when it was detached from the rest of the garment.
Many times that day, I regretted not having brought a telephoto lens with me. The birds flying away, or sitting on the roof were difficult to capture at the distance they were. It took a long time to finally get some photos, when they practically flew over our heads.
About this time, we realised that most of our last day in Marrakech had slipped away. Don't misunderstand me, the experience of watching the city get up and go about its business was immensely rewarding, but we had some buying of essentials for the next day. We tore ourselves away from our elevated panorama and went down into the street.
A couple of turnings away, still within the Jewish quarter, we came across one of the hundreds of spice shops. This one was alone in its street, a few steps away from the synagogue. As we approached, the old man standing just inside greeted us, then turned and left. We were alone to make sense of the bottles and boxes in front of us. A minute or so later, a younger man appeared, primed by the older man no doubt, that he had some Europeans as customers. The experience of buying spices in Marrakech is not at all the same as shopping in a supermarket or pharmacy. For a start, you are offered tea. Then you are positively encouraged to try the goods, to smell, to have them rubbed on your arm, your wrist; to be invited to close one nostril while you inhale; to add something to your tea, that makes your eyes water and your lips tingle when you drink it. This is surely the proper way to buy spices and perfume. Sitting down and being given an explanation of the uses of the item as you try to decide how much you like it, or not.
For about half an hour, or maybe more we sat, sampling, asking questions, deciding how much we could afford to not take and how much precious luggage space would it all need. Feeling better informed, certainly more fragrant and loaded down with a shopping bag full of aromas, we left to go and find food for the next day's travel.
After serving us spices and perfumes, the shopkeeper explained that he was proud of living in the Jewish quarter and impressed upon us the importance of seeing the cemetery and the synagogue for ourselves. Then he insisted that he took us to the old synagogue where there was an exhibition of carpet making crafts. There was indeed a woman sitting at a loom on which the beginnings of a two sided, summer and winter carpet was being woven. But the purpose of the visit was to try and sell us a carpet, or a rug, or a lamp, even a small one, or a charming box, no? They can send things by FedEx if you want.
The mid afternoon sun was hot on our backs, the first time this year, as we located a bread shop. We passed our nemesis in the fabric shop without a glance inside. Nor were we seriously attracted by the orthodontist displaying bejewelled replacements for lost molars, or even the tissues thrust up at us by the woman half prostate on the pavement. Returning to the hotel by the backstreets, we were not accosted by people who guessed we were lost on more than a couple of occasions. Perhaps the lack of camera and map reduced their concerns. The old men were occupying the shade, away from the heat, but a group of young and old women sat in the middle of the small square sharing a meal, the sun lighting up their faces and bright cloaks.
The rooftop beckoned and we ascended once more. This time we witnessed the homeward march of countless people, bikes and other vehicles, streaming away from the city with a rose light pursuing them. The stork obliged us by taking off and holding a large bundle of something, flew off right across the setting sun. It was Disney, it was theatre, like watching the fabled stork that delivers babies.
The street began its slow fade into darkness. The mountains, on all sides were now much larger in our view, than they had been in the heat haze of the day. The purple mountains were sharp as pyramids, the Atlas to the south lost their cloud like appearance and loomed ragged and cold behind the edge of the city. The call to prayer overwhelmed the buzz of small two-stroke engines.
For our last night at the hotel, we requested a meal, which was prepared in our honour, as we were the only ones eating there. A table, candlelit and strewn with rose petals greeted our entry. A fire in the hearth was welcoming, as was the tagine of vegetables and a sauce that was placed before us. A good meal and a stroll across the courtyard and we fell into our room to pack, if not into our bed to sleep.