We have learned a new word in Moroccan. Souk.
The souks are a location in the heart of the winding part of the Medina where craftsmen create and sell. If Jemaa el-Fna is large and open and they can see you coming from a mile away because your son is wearing black and white checkered pants and a bright red AC Milan sweatshirt, then in the tight alleywalls of the souks, it is a constant (and I mean constant) “Hello? Hello? Bonjour, Madame. Italano? Come into my shop. Just a moment. No charge to look. Give you good price. Good price.”
The shops, as well as the area of shops called the souk, are usually item specific. So you will find ten thousand little closet stores with floor to ceiling leather slippers in every color. Pointy toes. Rounded toes. Spangles. Stripes. It seems that there cannot be enough people in Marakesh for all the shoes in the ONE store, and yet there are 50 of these leather shoe empires, all piled from floor to ceiling, all right next to each other. All with men out front, asking you to come inside and you’ll get a good price. Even if you’ve clearly been inside the one store and made a great noise purchasing 160 pairs of shoes, in all colors and sizes, and you walk out with bags hanging off you, the next man in the next shop will ask you to come inside and look.
Shopping this way is exhausting.
If you do find something that you like, for example, the ring that I now have on my right hand, you ask politely what the price is. With great drama the man says that for me, of course, he will give a great price. Because he likes me. And business is slow. And this is a very unique ring. I have good taste. So it will be a zillion Moroccan dirhams. Which I have to translate inside my math-addled brain. A zillion dirhams is not a lot of money in the whole scope of things, but I cannot just take that first offer. So I offer half a zillion Moroccan dirhams, and he begins to tell me that he couldn’t possibly accept that price. I need to be serious with him. Now I could either be stupid, as I am often want to do, and up my offer substantially, or I could feign indifference and start to walk out. I tried both options. I got the ring, which “should be offered at” 1,000 DM but was 540 DM starting price, down to 260. So you know, 200 DM is about $25. I’m fairly confident I got taken at that price. But then, I like the ring.
We purchased some scarves in the scarf souk, and afterward we were offered, and enjoyed with the salesman, a ceremonial glass of mint tea, also known as Berber whiskey, served in tiny vertical glasses. (Because the Berber’s, from the mountain area of Morocco, do not drink alcohol.) They put a cube of sugar in a tiny glass of tea, and it is wonderfully satisfying as both a beverage and a treat. According to our salesman, he drinks LESS boiling hot mint tea when it is cold out, but when it gets to be 55 degrees in the midst of summer (which is 130 degrees !!), he drinks 8-11 glasses of hot tea.
He wrapped up our purchases, and then took us for a backstage tour of where the wool and silk is dyed and dried just around the corner form his shop. Inside a closet size space a roaring hot fire kept a couldron of, in this case, bright red dye made from paprika boiling. A man with forearms that were completely red dropped raw spun wool into the vat, stirred it with a wooden paddle, then pulled it back out again. After some time, another man would haul the still smoldering red backpack size bundle of red yard up a ladder onto the roof, and a grandfather would arrange it over wires to dry in the sun.