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and thence to Taroudant

Here it finally is, Dad, after my little Arabic interlude (that incidentally saw a nice spike in hits on my site, so I shall resume in a few posts, or perhaps as soon as the next), my post on Taroudant, penultimate stop on our Moroccan road-trip.

The main reason I've a bit to write is the splendid jewel of a little hotel we stayed at, that held us two days more than we'd counted on - Palais Oumensour. Couldn't rave about it vociferously enough, the perfect little haven, with its beautiful, fragrant courtyard and garden secreted behind nondescript high walls at the end of a dusty alley in the centre of town. The whole "Riad" thing's been so dreadfully overdone and oversold in Morocco that I hate to use this term for Palais Oumensour, bit it's really what a Riad, at heart, ought to be, with just the right ballance between traditional and understated contemporary design. Only thing I found wanting - though that's admittedly quite glaring in a place like Morocco - was the cooking. There, said it - just me being picky.

Love Taroudant. Sounds like and odd statement when you first encounter the place - nothing much to tick you off; nothing much to stoke your enthusiasm; just a medium sized town of newish, nonescript, similar-looking buildings of the standard type found all over the country. No old town, though the old city walls are still there and well cared for.

But it's all just nice ! nice little markets and souks, nice big wall, nice views on the Atlas mountains, a few lovely little restaurants, not to mention our splendid hotel, all nicely packaged together in a perfectly sized town. A kind of relaxed, hassle-free Marrakech if you will (which is good in my book, as I'm no particular fan of Marrakech as a whole).

There's also plenty of stuff that's rougher around the edges, as the weekly souk on a large patch of dusty land just a short walk over the dry river-bed to. Loud, dusty, chaotic - don't ask me why but it's just the thing for me - though admittedly it left the kids a bit bewildered (as much about the place as about my unbridled enthusiasm for it) and unconvinced. They were unsure about the notion of buying and selling animals (goats and sheep in this case), and felt for the poor things whose legs were bound together.

The straw that sort of broke the camel's back even for my patient wife was the tea break I declared, in one of the dusty tarp tends lining a wall to one side of the market, serving dirt-cheap, simple meals to the traders and their customers. I personally could've stayed there a good part of the afternoon, camera in hand, but it was all a bit much in the end for my wife and our kids, who perhaps don't have my died-in-the-wool homing instinct to all things so typically un-Swiss.

So we took one of a great many horse-carriage rides circuitously back to Palais Oumensour. I grew to love these leisurley rides, the sort I'd normally run from like the plague in Marrakech, for the torture of dealing/haggling with the coachman. In Taroudant they all seemed to be exceedingly relaxed and pleasant. One in particular was immeasurably proud of his city - and knew it inside out and gave us a fantastic off-the-beaten track tour.

He apparently was also a hobby-photographer, having contributed to the local postcard industry, and was very particular not only about making photo-stops along the way for my benefit, but about stage-managing the whole thing with incredibly precision, dictating where I was to place my feet on the ground, what I was to include in my frame, etc. The photo above was in fact taken in the Kasbah (the only old bit of town, though it's quite small) where that coachman gave us a short walking-tour in the middle of our long ride.

At the hotel there was a small poster advertising a photo exhibition by a certain Marc Belli. I was dead set on cathing it, except the location was in the souk and I couln't really conceive of finding an address in the souk by actually looking for it. By the same token I'd earlier promised my son a Magnum ice-cream. Whilst they aren't exactly easy to find I was pretty confident we'd find one in the end - but my mistake was to go actually looking for one. We methodically went to every café and shop around the main square inside the city walls - to no avail. Then I told my son what the hell, we'll just stop looking for the thing and it'll find us. Sure enough, a bit later in the souk, whilst debating where we were and where to go next (not that it made a fundamental difference), we realized the tiny corner-shop next to where we were standing had a freezer stocking ... wait for it ... Magnum ice creams ! mind you not just the plain-vanilla ones, the proper double-caramel ones. So on the same premise, I entirely forgot about Marc Belli and his photos - until it dawned upon me the gallery was just oposite a grand, Ali-Baba's cavern kind of rug and antique shop. The door was locked but the keymaster happened to be the manager of the shop opposite, who was glad to have visitors and let us in for a personal tour. I rather liked some of his photos, and he had some really cool little books - really should've brought bak a couple.

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