Saturday, November 19, 2016

The Olive Groves Of Menara...



Today's excursion into Marrakech began with a visit to Menara Gardens, a UNESCO World Heritage site...


Driving to the Menara Gardens, the streets are full of flags of Morocco and displays welcoming delegations to the COP22 as well at African summit...


The palms here look impressive...


These palms line up the road sides making for an idyllic feel...


Walking up to the Menara Gardens...


On the opposite end, 3 kilometers along the Avenue Prince Moulay Rachid lies the iconic symbol of Marrakech, the Koutoubia mosque...


The Menara Gardens are home to an orchard and an olive grove... 


These olives will one day grace your plate...


The Moroccan flags adorn the central pathway...


Rows of olive trees...


 The gardens were established in the 12th century by the Almohad Caliphate ruler Abd al-Mu'min, who planted the area with over a 1000 olive trees. At the centre of garden is a basin, 200 metres by 150 metres, filled in with water from the Atlas mountains through a series of elaborate channels...


The basin is home to carp, and it is customary for locals to feed them bread...


It is said that the pond was also used to train the medieval armies to swim before crossing to Andalusia, to invade Spain... 


The famous pavilion of the Menara Gardens. On a clear day, they say, you can get a view of the Atlas mountains behind...


A fountain not being used anymore...


Local vendors...



Lovely hats...


I left the Menara Gardens amazed with the ingenuity of the medieval architects who designed the elaborate channel system to irrigate the the olive groves here, and indeed olive trees mean a lot in this region...

"He Who Rushes Is Already Dead"

With the entire morning right till 3 PM free to myself, I am ready to explore the wondrous splendours of Marrakech...


And sure that needs quite a lot of fueling up. The Moroccan cheeses and preserved olives are indeed quite delicious and make for a delectable start to the day...


The Francophone countries have a way with their breads. And that is visible here in Morocco as well. These guys prefer their baguettes and croissants very well. For today's breakfast, I have a flaky croissant to go with my omelette, some boiled whole red lentils, capsicum and tomatoes...


And as I have my breakfast, I once again enjoy the decor of the hotel...


The hotel per se is quite ordinary, but the decor is rather nice in the lobby and the restaurant. And there is a distinct Moroccan feel to the architectural design...


A collage of Moroccan tiles...




A labyrinthine feel to the corridor...


And it's time for tea before I venture out. Guess what, I can't stop raving about the Moroccan mint tea...


Mint tea in Morocco means time. It forces you to pause, pause a bit, and contemplate over life...
The tea is Morocco’s national beverage and favourite pastime and is often made with tea leaves from the Atlas mountains with a dash of saffron...
Tea drinking is steeped in ritual and ceremony, it is always served to a guest when in a shop or a home, rich or poor. In a sense it is a cultural foundation on which Moroccan society is built. Drinking tea in Morocco signifies slowing down, to connect, to look at each other and to talk...
An old Berber proverb, “He who rushes is already dead” signifies what mint tea is all about. It means time, and with it, means peace...

Morocco - Discovering Its True Identity?

A lot has happened in this region, the Middle East & North Africa or the MENA region, since 2011, starting with the Arab Spring. And imagine how the Arab Spring began - in December 2010, a poor Tunisian orange seller, Tarek el-Tayeb Mohamed Bouazizi was humiliated by a municipal official who confiscated his wares. Tarek immolated himself resulting in his death and that incident triggered a series of protests.
And what followed was the Arab Spring. the Tunisian president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was forced to step down, triggering significant "tectonic" shifts in the MENA region. The Tunisian Revolution had an immediate domino effect in five other countries: Libya, Egypt, Yemen, Syria, Bahrain, where either there was a regime change or major uprisings and social violence occurred, including civil wars or insurgencies. 
Other countries - Algeria, Lebanon, Jordan, Kuwait, Oman, Sudan, Djibouti, Mauritania, the Palestinian National Authority and Saudi Arabia, all had been witness to these tensions and upheavals.
Morocco was not insulated from these shifts that have been happening in its immediate vicinity. But the deftness of the monarchy ensured the spark didn't trigger a major conflagration.
The monarchy leveraged on the tremendous religious, social, economic, and symbolic capital that they enjoy and is seen as a unifying force, legitimizing his political leadership. To deescalate the anger of young protesters on Moroccan streets, the king, Mohammed VI, announced major political reforms, including a new constitution with ‘less powers’ for the royalty, and showed a willingness to allow moderate Islamists to assume power. He did not resort to slander or harsh repression, like the way other Arab leaders responded.


Dirhams, the Moroccan currency issued by the central bank, Bank Al-Maghrib, proudly carry images of the monarch...


And the turmoil of the Arab Spring, that engulfed the MENA Region resulted in the downfall of strongmen in African polity - Hosni Mubarak and Muammar Gaddafi, resulting in a power vacuum, that King Mohammed VI has tried to fill in. It has doubled up efforts to rejoin the African Union, from where it was expelled in 1975 after the occupation of Western Sahara. The cozying-up to Africa is quite evident with the ongoing Morocco-Africa summit ongoing at the Palais des Congrès next door.


Moroccan businesses too see Africa as a continent with infinite business opportunities. Interactions with counterparts here were insightful, revealing how Moroccan companies and banks have spread across the continent, growing inorganically through acquisitions.
But there is a domestic challenge. There are multiple shades of biases against the darker Africans evidently visible in the attitudes of Moroccans in every day life. Numerous articles on the internet point to local sensitivities and fears on job losses following an influx of workers from sub-Saharan Africa into the country. 
As far as the domestic policies go, a revival of a traditional identity as a broader push toward pluralism and openness by King Mohammed VI. Prominent among these initiatives is the revival of the previously banned traditional Berber language, Tamazight, which was named as an official language in the 2011 constitution. The language spoken by 40% of Moroccans, the Berbers was banned till the early 2000s. 


The Tamazight language is a bit unique. The Berbers have had a written tradition, on and off, for about 2,500 years, although the tradition has been frequently disrupted by cultural shifts and invasions. They were first written in the Libyco-Berber abjad writing system, and is still used today by the Tuareg tribes. And the Roman influences brought about the development of the Berber Latin alphabet. And banners I have seen here not only have French (de-facto language of business in Morocco, given that it's in the Francophone world), but also Arabic, English and Tamazight.
And this is particularly appreciable given that the neighbouring countries - Mauritania, Algeria and Libya had long persecuted people for the use of the Berber language, in favor of the language of the Bedouins, Arabic.
But people on the ground seem to be able to reconcile with the past and embrace the future. The Moroccans I have met seem to indicate that they are a modern people with an ambition, a seriousness to succeed and yet they respect their traditions.
Clearly, Morocco is trying to reconcile between discovering its true ancient identity and it's place in the modern world. Only time will tell how effective Morocco is, in this endeavour...

Friday, November 18, 2016

A Lovely Moroccan Treat...



And it was time to explore Marrakech some more, and enjoy the exquisitely delicious Moroccan cuisine...


Heading to Riad Zaid for dinner...


Passing by a rather busy street...


The ride to the restaurant...



The walls of the Medina...



The city gates...



I was impressed by the lovely decor of restaurant at Riad Zaid...





A lovely vase...


Interior of the Riad Zaid...



It was a treat to see the decor here...




Lovely dinner plates at the Riad Zaid...


And here comes the food...


Courgettes...


The decor here is indeed quite nice...



Digging in...
I am joined in for dinner a middle-aged Welsh couple who are here for a brief holiday. As it turned out they were quite embarrassed by the recent Brexit referendum. And the discussion veered to Theresa May's recent visit to India where the British were scouting for a trade partnership!


Warm and soft Moroccan bread...


Rice with kebabs...


A Moroccan tagine...




Lovely pots...



Fit for a sultan!


And some nice pottery...


And now heading back...


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