Negotiating with Yertle the Turtle

So here’s the problem, for me at least, in a system based on haggling. Everything is available for a price, but almost nothing has a price on it, so you have to ask about anything in which you have the least amount of interest. Want to know how much that ras el hanout costs to take home? You basically have to open up negotiations to get the information. And then if you’re really interested divide the price by three, and then hope that you can get the vendor there.

Sometimes I want to know this information before I open up the painful exhausting negotiations. I want to know what I’m getting into. Because if I don’t want to spend $50 a lb for that ras el hanout, I don’t want to begin to engage the aggressive salesman. It’s not in they’re nature to accept that you aren’t interested; they just won’t take “no” for an answer.

But there’s another solution when you don’t want to fight through the negotiation. Especially if you don’t want a lot anyway, and you’re just tired of slogging through the BS on every little purchase. Instead of fighting your way out of the shop you just give up and pay the exorbitant price for a small amount (if you can). In any case it was still only $5 for 50 grams of the stuff, which may be way overpriced, but is certainly less expensive than you can get it at home, and for better quality. The shop owners won’t understand what just happened, because they missed out on the fun of the negotiation, but then they pity you and throw in extra paprika just because they KNOW they’re ripping you off.

But in the end it was only $5, and I know that those couple bucks that I might have been able to save probably mean a lot more to them than they do to me. And I know my time is worth it.

I started this morning at the Ali Ben Youssef Medersa. See the door? Apparently it’s closed. Again. My frequent readers know that this happens to me. I heard some people speaking with some of the construction workers nearby – it may be closed for a couple years. I’m going to take this as a sign and have decided I’m not coming back tomorrow.

This is the Ali Ben Youssef Library. It’s a nice building next door, and probably part of the same complex. You can’t avoid seeing it because the streets here are so tight, and when they open up onto squares, the light floods in. The squares are usually still filled with vendors, but this building dominates its square. I don’t know if it is possible to enter, but it doesn’t show up in the guidebooks, so it is either closed or not worthwhile. Nearby, there is also the Ali Ben Yousef Mosque. Only two mosques in this country permit entry to non-Muslims, and because I am not a Muslim, I did not try to enter. I would prefer to avoid an international incident.

Behind me was the Museum of Marrakech, which I did see. This building was formerly the palace of defense minister Mehdi Mnebhi. It passed through a few different hands over the years, including serving as a girls’ school, before becoming a museum in 1997.

The inner courtyard is absolutely spectacular. Like everybody else, I linger here for a time, just absorbing the energy of the space.

Some of the art is available for purchase. I momentarily considered whether to pursue this, but it is more than I want to spend, and I suspect they won’t negotiate.

Following the visit to the museum, I make as stop for lunch at a rooftop restaurant that serves as an escape from the throngs below. I don’t think the locals eat tagine for lunch, but I don’t care, because I may never get this much tagine again. In this case, it is made with kefta meatballs and an egg. After eating, I pause again to breathe and enjoy some mint tea before diving back into the mass of humanity that awaits in the labyrinthine alleyways below.

Today seems to be about escape for me, getting away from the hustle and bustle of Marrakech. In particular, I’m trying to avoid the souks, as there is nothing I need to buy. Still, I don’t mind passing through the souks de teinturiers, as I have no interest whatsoever in the fabric they are selling.

And the gaudy skeins of yarn hanging from above are certainly worth the risk.

Beyond the dyers souk, I stop in the “Secret Garden,” a pair of gardens that were built as respite from the surrounding din.

There is an elaborate water distribution system, built using traditional techniques. This is a source of pride for them, and even I find it a bit intriguing.

These turtles don’t seem to care where the water came from. The precarious nature of their pile makes me think of Dr. Seuss.

I pay the $2 to climb the small tower in the corner of the garden, for the “unparalleled” views of the city. A couple things here – there are no tall buildings in Marrakech – at least not in old Marrakech. The tallest structures are the minarets, and I can’t climb those.

And the views from here? Well, it gets me over the rooftops, but not by much. Overall it was a bit disappointing, but I shouldn’t be surprised. Marrakech is not a place you see from above – it’s a place you experience from within.

So it was that I found myself caught again in the undertow of Marrakech. I was taught years ago that you don’t fight undertow – it’ll just tire you out. You have to go with it. And there I was following my feet and wandering through the souks, and once again I found myself back in the spice market. They sell ras el hanout everywhere, but most of it is ground – I’d prefer to grind my own, and I can get that here. For a price.

Yes, I went back to the souks, and I’ll probably go back tomorrow. They’re everywhere and they can’t really be avoided. I love the Moroccan mint tea, and have considered buying some, but everybody wants to sell it to me, so I suspect the price or process will be prohibitive.

Still, I may yet try.

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