17 mars 2011

A Warm Welcome in Marrakesh

One of the many palatial living rooms at L Mansion, Marrakesh
'It's very warm here' she says happily as we step off the plane at 5pm in Marrakesh. Normally, I don't warm up until it's at least 28°C, (82°F) but after several months of minus temperatures in Stockholm, even I agree that 20°C (68°F) feels warm! The locals seem to be of a different mind though, as they dressed in thick sweaters or wool kaftans with their hoods up.

After a short drive through the bustling, winding roads of the city we arrive at the gates of our hotel, L Mansion. Built on 12-acres filled with blossoming citrus and olive trees, L Mansion is truly an authentic Moroccan palace.

We were greeted warmly by the estate proprietor. After seating us comfortably in one of the many magnificent palace living rooms, we were offered warm mint tea. While sipping our tea, despite the ornate surroundings, the thing we noticed above all else, was 'the quiet'. In fact, as it transpired, we were the only guests. Serving primarily a discerning American clientele, the other scheduled guests had apparently been scared off from a trip to Morocco. It seems the political issues currently happening in the Arab world, while barely visible in the day to day lives of the people in Marrakesh, still impact them greatly.

Having spent about half my life in Sweden, I know that the differences between the Scandinavian countries are many. There is a tendency however, among people not from Scandinavia, to 'lump ' all Scandinavians together as if they come from a single place. 'They are more or less the same' I sometimes hear and even read in various tourist publications or on websites. I guess the 'Arab world' has suffered the same fate as the people of 'Scandinavia', despite the immense differences in each nation and its people.

So here we sit, enjoying the warm evening sun, surrounded by friendly staff with warm smiles, in a peaceful palace just minutes from the crowded streets of Marrakesh - all alone.

5 mars 2011

Tradition on the streets of Britain

No matter how modern we think we are, some things never change.

Sitting in the suburb where I grew up, logged on to BT Open Zone and merrily accessing the server in Sweden via vpn, I hear a noise from the street. It's a distance noise, a cry that gets louder and louder as it moves down the street. I feel a vague twinge of recognition somewhere in the depths of my memory.

But it can't be what I think it is. It's not possible. Not in 2011!

I put my laptop on the floor and go inte the living room to look out of the window onto the street. I hear it again. A cry, this time louder, but still not visible. I look to the left and the right, but I can't see anything.

And then I hear it - clear as day. A resonant voice echoing down the street:

'Raa-boh! Raa-boh! Raa-boh..........'

I can't believe it - the Rag and Bone man is here.

Historically, the Rag and Bone man was a man who travelled the streets of a city and collected old rags (for converting into fabric and paper), and bones (for making glue), scrap iron and other items, often trading them for other items of limited value. Now they collect any junk that they think has a useful resale or recycling value.

When I was a kid, in the 70's, they would use their distinctive 'Raa-boh' (Rag and Bone) call to alert householders to their presence, sometimes also ringing a hand bell. Whenever you gave them something, you would recieve a goldfish in return - a living goldfish swimming around in a water-filled plastic bag. I loved those goldfish.

I stand at the window in amazement. The Rag and Bone man still exists! But even he has modernised his practice.

In my childhood, he trotted around the streets in traditional horse-drawn cart with colourful balloons attached to the horse.

Now, he drives around in a spic-and-span white van. And through his side window, I see the familiar blue glare of a gps system.

Neil S