Friday Night Lights: Jemaa el Fna Square

They were women who wore brightly coloured djellabas with silky hoods halfway down their backs, and their hands and feet were covered in an intricate web of design. ‘Tattoos,’ Bea whispered. ‘Henna,’ the woman nearest me laughed, noticing my fascinated stare.-Esther Freud, Hideous Kinky

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Last Friday my friend, Jasna, and I returned to Jemaa el Fna where Esther Freud, great granddaughter of Sigmund Freud, lived in the early 70s with her mother and sister.  In her autobiographical novel, Hideous Kinky, Freud tells the story of her mom taking her and her sister, Bea, from London  to live in Marrakesh in search of adventure.  The five-year-old paints their expat life as an exciting, confusing time.  Real.  Surreal.  I get it.

Note–when the Henna Lady grabs your hand and begins drawing, despite your telling her plainly, “Not today,” she expects to get paid.  Like the Turtle Guy, no matter how much she ignores your protests and claims to “just want to show you something,” she will ask for cash in the end.  Lots.  Likewise,  be wary of some cab drivers when seeking a riad in the souks. More on that later…

The square was lit with the lights of a hundred stalls of food. They appeared at sunset and were set out in lanes through which you could wander and choose where to eat your supper. There were stalls decorated with the heads of sheep where meat kebabs grilled on spits, and others that sold snails that you picked out of their shells with a piece of wire. There were cauldrons of harira – a soup that was only on sale in the evening – and whole stalls devoted to fried fish, and others that sold chopped spinach soaked in oil and covered in olives like a pie. Each stall had a tilley lamp or two which they pumped to keep the bulbs burning and metal benches on three sides where you could sit and eat.

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We sat up late into the night drinking syrupy mint tea.

A cousin to the Henna Lady and Turtle Guy, Food Stall Sam competes with the other guys who hand you a menu, grab you by the arm, and attempt to usher you to a seat.  And yes, he jumped into the picture, then wanted to be paid.  One of the other guys used flattery: “You’re so skinny.  You must sit and eat.”  Another called us his “homies” as we circled twice trying to decide, and another, took the pragmatic, perhaps more honest approach:  “Same shit at all these stalls.  Might as well eat here.”

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In the end, I had lamb skewers and couscous, then chose sweets from a rolling cart to take home.

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I’d be back, often.    But Saturday I left the old for for the new, calm for cacophony,  where I read by a beautiful blue pool.  More on that in next post….

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Cindy McCain

A Southern Girl Gone Global, I flew from my empty Nashville nest in 2014 to land in Africa where I lived two years in magical Marrakesh, Morocco. Now I live in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic and continue sharing my journey--so far across 27 countries on 4 continents and the Caribbean. This travel/lifestyle blog is about letting go of fear, clinging to faith, and following your heart's desires. It's a celebration of beauty, adventure, relationship...roots and wings.

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