I’m really not quite sure how I’m feeling at the moment. Stunned could be accurate, overwhelmed also accurate. Excited, shocked, incredulous, scared, nervous and intrigued also fit the bill. I’m mentally and physically drained right now. It has been a long hard week of theory lessons, practice assignments, walking around an increasing strange and at times hostile town; confronting old demons and facing a whole new set of challenges. There have been good times of course - getting to know the group, having a good laugh with them in restaurants and getting some shots that are unlike anything that I’ve taken before.
The past week has been leading up to these next couple of days in Marrakech, and it really feels like things have stepped up an order of magnitude. Tomorrow we will be given our final assignments and will then have two days to shoot and present it. The final assignment is going to be unlike what we have shot before - it will need a narrative and the work is going to need to tick all the boxes - technically, composition, interesting and of course fitting the story of the presentation. I have a rough idea in my head that I need to discuss with Jon tomorrow. I have a few hours in the morning to flesh it out and see if it is working for me. The idea is a shoot based around the contrast of stillness and motion here in Morocco. The over-riding impression that I have of the country is contrasting calmness and mayhem. From the back ally with just a single person walking in it, to the incredible crush of the choke points where masses of people try to head for a tiny through point. The charming and friendly storekeeper that explodes with rage once he realises that you have no intention of buying anything; despite telling him this for the last 10 minutes. As I say, it needs to be fleshed out - but I think that the beginning of an idea is there.
Todays gruelling schedule began much earlier then usual. Our transfer to Marrakech necessitated an early start. Breakfast was had and we bid or farewells to Casa Lila and its owners Michelle and Frou Frou who had been the most gracious and welcoming hosts. We piled into the same minivan that brought us to to Essenoria and made our way to Marrakech. We stopped twice; first at a collective where they make and sell argonut oil. The highlight of this was to be the tree climbing goats that do as the name suggests - climb trees and collect the nuts. These then pass through the animals digestive tract and the pellets are then collected. The nut is then separated, cleaned and removed from its shell. The remaining nut is then ground by more woman using stone grinders. Astonishing quantities are needed to produce a single litre. The collected oil is then used for everything from cooking and beauty products. We did not see any goats whilst we were there, but we did see one tree full of them as we were driving along. What we did see at the collective is how much effort is needed to produce what has become a luxury product. There was one old lady there who had the kindest most characterful face, and another young woman who had a beautiful smile.
The second time that we stopped was for a drink at the café that we were meant to stop at on the first day - but had neglected to have any food to prepare. I was dreading getting back in the van at this point. It was very hot and stuffy and the poor conditions of the road made things uncomfortable. I tried to get my head down but couldn’t. In the end I wrote yesterdays entry on my iPhone, which was a challenge when the screen was bouncing around like it was on a rollercoster. I really couldn’t complain too much as it was far worse for Claudia who was still feeling ill and now had to endure the journey as well.
Just arriving in Marrakech you could sense that this was to be an entirely different proposition then anything that had come before. The streets were as busy as Essenoria, but these were the back streets. Where in Essenoria we had to contend with the occasional cyclist and chariot; here the roads were thinner, the foot traffic heavier and there are motor-scooters weaving in and out of every available space in a constant stream. Lose your wits for one second and you are likely to be hit by a speeding bike.
We checked into the new hotel - a pleasant enough place, but I feel it lacks the charm of Casa Vila. Maybe it will grow on me in the time I have left here. Shortly after checking in we made our way inside the walls of the medina and into the souk. There are people, market stalls and vehicles everywhere that the eyes see. from every direction people try to call you over to buy goods, others taking a more direct approach and following you offering their wears. Just a few minutes into the walk, I’d had a snake placed around my neck for a good 20 seconds as its owner tried to get me to pose for a photograph - which of course he would then sell to me at a huge price. The souk is overwhelming to the senses. The noise is all calls, commotion, airhorns and motors. The smell of two-stroke oil, waste water on the streets, fresh fruit and thousands of people in close proximity. The eyes see danger in all places - many of them offering goods for sale. Even in an alley just about wide enough for two people to walk though, there will be stalls on both sides; and yes - people will still try to bring those scooters through.
We walked around the entire parameter of the souk, which I did not find pleasant. My legs were tight and sore from the bus journey and my knee was beginning to become very sore. In many ways we were the walking wounded. Drew and Kirsten also have sore knees - a consequence of all the kneeling we do when taking shots. Juliette suffers from Shin Splints, so walking for her was painful. Claudia, who had missed lunch, had joined us and was putting a brave face on. We stopped at an old palace an explored the grounds. We stopped in one room and we all just found places to sit and rest. I think Jon realised that we were not our usual selves as we scratched the plan to visit a second palace and instead headed for a coffee bar.
The walk there was insanity. Children must have just finished school because all of a sudden we were surrounded by them. They ran, they pushed they laughed and pointed at the foreigners , or they fought amongst themselves. This happened the entire length of the road taking the mad levels of foot and bike traffic and raising it up to that insanity level.
After stopping for drinks, most of us retired back to the hotel - a welcome respite from the outside world. We ate tonight in a beautiful terrace restaurant that offered great views of the medina skyline. If they only sold alcohol it may have been perfect. Instead we had a single nightcap at another bar. We sat on the floor surrounded by cushions and get very comfortable.
I’ve now got a few hours to recharge and somehow find the nerve to throw myself back into the souk - only this time as a photographer with an assignment. I can’t imagine for one moment it is going to be particularly fun, but I once heard someone mutter something about suffering for art, lets see if they were right.