Sunset from Cafe Argana, taken January 2011
We raced a Moroccan sun. “If we time it right, you’ll see magic twice from the terrace,” I explained to my friend Natalie. “First when the sun sets, and then again when the square twinkles to life.” We both needed a bathroom badly, but I insisted there wasn’t time. Our waiter at Cafe Argana had served me before, and we recognized each other. He, like so many of the Moroccans I know, understood the importance of levity and laughter, so he joked amiably with us each time he passed our table. A young American couple sat nearby, discussing how they wished their still-wet henna designs were permanent tattoos. A Moroccan kid, no more than ten years old, squeezed in behind Natalie’s chair to take pictures of Djemaa El Fna, and occasionally, tourists whispered happy apologies in myriad accents while they leaned over our teapots to snap the sinking sun. Marrakech was so hot that day that Natalie and I had spent the afternoon shadow hopping; between our aching bladders and our scorching skin we were anxious for the sun to quit. But, it clung tenaciously to the sky. Finally, it dipped below the horizon and one by one the bright light bulbs hanging from each of the booths began to glow, illuminating the delicacies of Marrakech: dates and apricots, pots of snails and pots of harrira, servings of sausages and dished up tanjia. “I see what you mean,” Natalie said from behind her camera’s viewfinder. “The square is shinning.”
Djemma El Fna shines, view from Argana on April 9, 2011
I’d made a habit of sharing a chicken bastilla at the same table on Café Argana’s terrace each time one of my friends visited Morocco. “Of course you did,” a Moroccan friend said yesterday when we were discussing the bombing. “Everyone did. It’s the best. Everyone goes to Argana.” Then, he lowered his head and said: “It’s not right. How could someone do something so terrible? That’s not Islam. That’s not Morocco. I hope you know that.” I nodded and said I did and we resumed worrying: about his friend that worked nearby, about my waiter from a few weeks ago.
Cafe Argana, December 31, 2010
After that last visit to Marrakech, I came home and found a concert in downtown El Jadida. It was warm outside and the whole town was out for the party. The bands were mostly local and they were surprisingly good. They sang in English and French and Darija and Arabic. I wandered through the crowd dodging strollers and dancing two-year olds and swaying dads with daughters on their shoulders. In the grass, kids joined hands and twirled until they fell down giggling and dizzy. I thought: this is what Park Slope would look like if you passed out djellabas during Celebrate Brooklyn. And everywhere I looked people were holding each other because they were happy. This is Morocco:
And that’s what makes me so sad about Thursday’s events. This isn’t a country where bombs go off; it’s a place where people you’ve only just met invite you to tea or lunch and insist you eat until you’re stuffed. This is a country of amazing linguists. It’s a country of stories and storytellers. It’s a country where you can watch an evening come to life from a beautiful terrace. It’s a country where people laugh often, and laugh well. I’m so sad for Marrakech and the tragic events that occurred there Thursday. I’m angry that innocent people died, and that someone willingly marred the reputation and the tourism industry of a country that dearly loves and needs their tourists. But I’m also confident in the wonderful Moroccans. They will rebuild and survive and the country will continue to evolve in uniquely Moroccan ways. They’ll show everyone that this is a safe and amazing place to visit. And, inshallah, the tourists will continue to swoon over smells and monkeys and the snakes and the storytellers and the performers, just as they have done for hundreds of years, because the spirit Djemaa El Fna has more power than any bomb.
Argana at Night, taken October 30, 2010