Friday, February 6, 2009
How are you, my friend
Essaouira is laid-back and considered relatively hassle-free, and it is, but being clueless new faces in town, we had some encounters yesterday in the main square between the old town and beach.
Umbrella sellers in Italy go for people with no umbrellas during downpours, but here the sunglasses sellers flog their imitation Ray-Bans and D&G at people who are already wearing sunglasses on partly cloudy days.
If you don't head them off with a firm no (the wife's "Allo? Non merci" was effective -- I think she barely restrained herself saying "Allo, McFly") these guys don't take no for an answer. They'll give you the merch and foil your efforts to give it back. They'll prey on your family, though often they'll ignore the female members completely, even if you tell them the wife has the purse strings.
Hashish is also in the mix, in bizarre ways. As we crossed the plaza and prepared to hit the sand, a guy came running toward us with a platter of cookies as if we were long-lost friends and he had just baked them. I sampled a macaroon. The price of 20 dh for six cookies seemed a little steep, but not much more than you would pay for Finnish cookies in Estonia. So I bought six, even though it was slimy how he tossed extra cookies into my bag and reeled off the prices as if doing wacky-times-tables.
Rather than going our separate ways, he took a different tack. The middle row of cookies, which didn't look or smell any different, were apparently a potent variety of space cake. I found this strange. There we are, a family, and I have sampled his wares, and now it turns out some of the cookies are hallucinogenic. Maybe herding a small child around an unfamiliar city after space cake is his idea of safe fun, but I'd say he did his business a disservice.
There were a couple more. I was walking in the fish grill market (not the fish souq but the more commercial pick n grill area near the port) with Morgan on my shoulders at 5pm and one guy made a rolling motion with his fingers and said "smoke smoke" like a ventriloquist. It was just like Amsterdam.
At the fishing port, I talked to one Sahid, who seemed to be a grizzled old fisherman who was idling by one of the many boats. Then he asked me what my metier was. What I am doing this apres-midi? I asked in bad French, mishearing. Because it sounded like he was offering to take us out on the water. No, your job, he said, what do you do?
I told him I was an ecrivain, only because I couldn't remember the word for translator or copy editor. This must have triggered an association (Burroughs, Gysin, Kerouac?) because all of a sudden he started talking about how I can fish everyday with him, and I looked down and what do you know, a hash spliff was smouldering in his fingers, I don't even know when he had managed to light it. He flashed me a seven or eight gram chunk under the folds of his coat.
How could I have been so stupid? All of a sudden, Sahid turned from authentic fisherman into just another zombie hustler who can't take no for an answer, he winked after every line like a tic. I finally got out of it by repeating demain, demain -- tomorrow.
I figured Sahid might confine his domain to the port, but Essaouira is small, and what do you know, we didn't have to wait for demain. I ran into an old man in the medina just before we -- now all four of us, with pram -- turned into the blind alley where our house is. "Demain, demain, eh?" and winked. Oh my God -- it was Sahid. I summoned a firm non merci (finally) and he vanished, but I don't like the fact he now knows what street we live on...
That said, the city is not really seedy at all, seems there's about 10 shady guys. The beach is calm and there were many more jewellery sellers in Mexico.
Posted by Kristopher at 11:13 PM