Whatever your affliction, from indigestion to night terrors to bachelorhood, there is a tea, perfume, song, reptile, or henna pattern to correct it.
Unlike the ancient time capsule of serpentine alleys in Fez, Marrakech blends its old world medina with modern European touches, frequently touched by Europeans, sojourning from across the Gibraltar. Scooters replacedonkey carts, satellite dishes ornament the flat brown rooftops, and tourists who recently exchanged their Euros for Dirhams rock the casbah in search of wholesale genie lamps, (magic?) carpets, Arabian swords, or just a nice teapot to round out their colorful phohemian kitchen back home.
And the closet hypochondriacs, whose frequent server-crashing visits to WebMD that have yielded more side effects than solutions, can here find an alternative alternative.
An old man casts a long, late afternoon shadow on the floor of the Djemaa el Fna. His merchandise includes, from toe to hip, a stack of gangly, dried camel legs to, as he puts it, “make you higher.” I politely decline, as I’m sure I’m tall enough. He then suggests one of the many local hammams that will gladly steam and scrub my skin, long abused by stress and Old Spice body wash.
Taj was the first to greet me when I arrived, dragging the rollerskate wheels of my Samsonite carry-on across cobblestone and horse shit. Like a newb, I looked directly at the colorful spices, like tiny alien sand dunes, lining the entrance to his shop. Here a focussed glance is the same as buying, and he quickly pulled me inside.
Taj noticed my sniffle and barked at his assistant for hot water. Faster than I could say headcold, he opened a jar of white crystals, put one tiny piece in the cup, and directed me to breath the menthol in through my mouth. He sprinkled dark powder on a hot coal and the smoke turned from black to blue. Without pausing, he crushed some bark-like material into a cloth and held it up to each of my nostrils, closing the opposite nostril for me as I inhaled. He looked me up and down and, confirmed somehow by my appearance, asked if I needed any good hashish.
Whatever the affliction, Taj is here to fix you.
He walked me through the multicolored jars of spices and oils – everything from saffron to snakeskin. He described how the black charcoal in his hand created the same eyeliner Mohammed wore. This is customary for men here and, apparently, good for the eyes. He crushed up leaves and ordered me to smell and taste. He covered my arms inch by inch with exotic aromas sure to help rid me of any chance I’d skip a shower tonight.
Outside of Taj’s shop, traditionally attired acrobats, musicians, and storytellers cover the large public square. Recognizing the sound from some childhood cartoon buried in my subconscious, I hear the distinct nasal pitch of a snake charmer’s horn nearby, and I can’t resist. I approach the men, waving their hands and drums at perfectly poised, strike-ready cobras with lackadaisical disregard. They invite me to sit with them and, trusting the deadly snakes are sufficiently entranced, I am seated before they finish their invite.
Never doubting the proficiency of his background in herpetology, or at least a sturdy link in his chain of snake-wise ancestors, I allow one of the men to place a non-venomous snake around my neck. They play their cobra song as I sit within striking distance, and fully commit to the snake’s stare down. It looks at me, or through me, with its hood wide open. The smug, biting part of its face fixes on me with a look that says “you’re not from here, are you?” Not knowing what to say, I take its picture.
One of the handlers removes the snake from around my neck and pushes its head down on the backside of my hand three times. “Snake kisses,” he says, “for luck.”
The snakes are here to fix me.
A woman, fully covered save for her dark, mascara’d eyes, seizes upon me immediately as I leave. Without asking, she grabs me and begins creating a pattern with henna on my forearm. “Nice eyes,” she tells me. “You married? No? This good for you. You meet wife in four days.” The muddy blobs of henna form into a spitting scorpion. She’s finished within moments and demands a large fee for her services. “You good man,” she says. “Nice eyes. Is nothing for you. And this good for wife.” I refuse her fee, and offer her much less. Her tone changes quickly and the transaction escalates to her smearing the still wet scorpion up the length of my arm. Not knowing what to say, I take her picture. She storms off, theatrically disgusted.
But, having a soft spot for “good man” with “nice eyes,” or perhaps just to be sure I delete the photo from my memory card, she returns, apologetically, and recreates the scorpion on the opposite side of the smudged brown stain. “Good wife in four days,” she repeats. The henna is here to fix me.
Then a guy put a monkey on my arm that smeared the good one.