Room #16, Maroc Hotel, Meknes, Morocco
September 20, 2007
North Africa Page: http://canciondelvagabundo.googlepages.com/northafrica
I find myself alone, comfortable, in a perfectly rectangular green room on the second floor of the Maroc Hotel. It is nice here. There are wooden shutters that cover the windows that I can push open to let the gentle breeze come through. But, usually, only the smell of a leaky septic system permeates. But this does not bother me too much, as eight years of travel have dulled my olfactory senses. The rooms of this hotel are stationed around an interior courtyard that has an orange grove in the center of it. The branches of the orange tree grow up to the windows of the second floor, where my shuttered window opens upon this ambient scene.
There is an army of little squeaky birds that have made a base out of this orange grove, and they squeak the day away in perfect squeaky bird fashion. Sometimes I throw something out into the orange grove and all of the squeaky birds get real scared and go silent for a few minutes. Then I laugh at them, and they start squeaking all over again.
Room #16 of the Maroc Hotel is perfect in every way. It sits at the top of the stairs and I can hear all of the travellers mounting the steps on the way to their rooms. Sometimes I poke my head out of my door and try to talk to them. Some of them seem to get a little scared, like the squeaky birds outside of my window. But others welcome my friendliness and we talk for a little while about travelling, Morocco, and the Open Road.
One of these days I expect to open my door to find Andy the Hobotraveler (www.hobotraveler.com) standing at the top of the stairs. I don’t think that I could scare Andy.
The streets of the Meknes old quarter are, simply put, old- some would say ancient.
Mulay Ismail, “The Tyrant of Meknes,” once brought 16,000 Sub-Saharan Africans into the city and called them his Black Guard. He gave these soldiers women, food, an other sorts of creature comforts. In turn, they defended the city from the pirates to the west, the Europeans to the north, and the Turks in Algeria to the east. They were a tough bunch that, due mostly to the provision of women, soon multiplied to 160,000 soldiers. I don’t know what they did after this. Maybe they all just realized that they liked women better than fighting?
I like Mira better than fighting.
So I walked out of room #16 of the Maroc Hotel this evening and there was a large fight in progress in the beat old street. It was one group of Moroccan men versus another. I think that it was the customers of one café versus another down the street. It is my assumption that the men here divide themselves up into café gangs which go to battle against other cafes, but I am probably wrong. All I know is that a manager of the café out in front of the Maroc Hotel was yelling and screaming at a couple of men who were walking away. Then things calmed down a little and I proceeded to go about my walk. Then, out of nowhere, the manager of the café tore off down the street with a group of about ten men from his café towards the men that he was previously yelling at. I ran along to find out what would happen.
The manager pulled his belt out of his loosely fitting pants to use as a weapon and began swinging it around. Then, out of another café, that was in the direction that everyone was running to, about ten more men came rushing out to meet the manager of the café, his belt, and his men.
I reached for my video camera (what else was I going to do, fight?) but everything simmered down as soon as the two rival groups met. The manager put his belt away, everybody else just stood around looking at each other, and the two men that were being chased just walked away. It was as if it was all an act that was put up solely for appearance’s sake. It seemed as if nobody really wanted to fight, but they had to act like they were going to do battle so they would not look cowardly. What interested me most about this scene was that nobody seem to take this very seriously; like it was an everyday show. Sure, some people were yelling, but the mood of the entire group was not elevated to the level of a street brawl, as observers would stroll into the fray to say hi to their friends, and their friends would momentarily stop pretending to fight and return the greeting. I have witnessed this scene many times in Morocco.
I just shrugged my shoulders and walked on.
I had a perfect room to come back to sleep in.