Marrakech’s crown jewel is its thriving market in its medina quarter: the Jemaa el-Fna.
Night falls and the Jemaa el-Fna itself springs to life: a throbbing, pulsing organism, a body of rhizomatic assemblages, of groups of people, tourists and locals, of species, of collectivities, of collision. It is space filled and empty, fluid and spreading, regrouping and growing and breathing, not any one thing, but a host of many things—of change, of movement, of life, and of tension, of an otherness that exists in a clash of culture, in the heckling of shop owners and the Australian teenagers walking around in booty shorts and the women in veils with Gucci logos and the Arabic men that stare, all zooming around like gas molecules in a dance. Everyone in the Jemaa el-Fna exists in an implicit dance, set to the mystical horns of snake charmers—the melody that stops only when the night ends.
The square assaults every sense. Silver smoke plumes rise from food stalls stacked endlessly, conjuring rows of goat heads, boiling snails, and roasting kebabs, lancing through clouds of foggy air. The food sizzles and steams richness and spice, riding the air like a magic carpet. Performers post themselves beside the food canopies, lighthouses in the sea of bobbing heads. Every blink flashes storytellers, belly dancers, magicians, card readers, monkeys and cobras, shrouded in a cacophonous haze from which only the musical pipe of snake charmers can be clearly distinguished. Everything floats, genie-like, on the flute’s melody.
The heartbeat of the square is the collective stomp and clap from the drum circles. It pulls us in, musicians floating around us as we twirl and shout, the outside world of the Jemaa el-Fna fading as we clap to the beat, lost at the foot of a mosque tower. The circle spits us out and the square jerks us from every direction—mobs of vendors tug us into their souks, shifty “guides” urge us into alleyways, women reel in our hands without warning, tracing henna designs in seconds and demanding a fee.
We dodge through tooting mopeds, bicycles, mules and cars, weaving around stalls and the people that keep coming and coming, running from catcalls from Arab men to SHAKE YER BOT, running from the Moroccans who chase us for taking a picture of them, running from the boys who want to know our names, who offer us tea and hash and massages if we follow them home.
The fog swallows us, bodies brushing past, nudging us with the tide, collecting us around a Moroccan comedian. Cackles erupt from the crowd around him as he balances on a wooden stool with candles at his feet, telling stories in Arabic, guiding his hands like a conductor. He is a wizard in his brown robes, gray tangled beard enmeshed in a giant nest beneath his pointed cloak, mesmerizing me with his hands. I hardly notice the wall of Moroccan men closing in on us, descending from the shadows, faced cloaked beneath caps and hoods. We’re forced closer, pressed in between bodies, faces trapped beneath the bobbing heads, all hands and no “hello.” I can’t escape, entombed in the sweat and stench of the men that barricade us with their bodies. I turn around and we slap them away, disgusted but triumphant, shuffling away from the indifferent masses, running from the fog, the solicitors, the people that want my money, the donkeys that don’t care if they stampede over us, running to be free, to zoom and to float, not as a genie or on a magic carpet, but down cobble-stone corridors, empty except for stray kittens that peek out beneath pieces of cardboard, beneath arches that take us further from the chaos, escaping the food smells, the squirming hands, the leering shouts. But even down our course of escape, tangled as it was, weaving beneath low hanging arches and around narrow stone corners, dodging the games of children kicking a red ball back and forth—we never escape that knotted, serpentine Arabic melody of the charmer’s flute, deafened only when the night ends.